Architecturally, West Philadelphia has some of the most interesting buildings in town. Standard Philly row homes, Old Victorians, Greco-Roman inspired buildings, and plenty of other styles line the streets of West Philly, distinguishing it from much of South Philly, for example. We were on the 4600 block of Sansom Street yesterday investigating a reader tip, and came upon 4622 Sansom St., a vacant lot. Next door looks like a building that was once a twin to this property. A photo from Phillyhistory.org confirms this.
The now-demolished building in 1954
The corner lot has been vacant for at least a decade, and the home next door looks to be much worse for the wear of having lost its neighbor. Across the street, a building constructed in a similar style remains intact, though with perhaps a little too much vinyl.
For over a decade, the Boyd Theater has sat vacant and blighted on the 1900 block of Chestnut Street. Since it was last in active use in 2002, several possible plans have come and gone for this deco beauty, but all have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. In October, we learned about a plan from iPic Theaters to maintain the building's facade and demolish the enormous one-screen theater in favor of a boutique eight-screen concept plus a restaurant.
View today of the theater
When we heard about this idea, we confess we experienced mixed emotions. On the one hand, we were very happy to hear that this long-vacant building would be coming to life again. We were also pleased as punch to learn that Center City would be getting a multi-screen first-run theater once again, something that's been sorely lacking for so many years. On the other hand, the building has so much history and it's one of the only intact downtown theaters that are left out of the dozens we once had. The demolition of the old theater's interior would absolutely be a loss.
As early as last year, 4923 Osage Ave. was a vacant, debris-filled mess with its rear wall caving in. Now it's an entirely renovated home that’s listed on the market for $349,900. The turnaround was facilitated by Project Rehab, an initiative launched in 2011 by the forward-thinking innovative group at University City District that brought us The Porch, 30th's Street Station’s colorful and vibrant concrete enclave.
The home, recently
“Project Rehab is born out of the community,” said Ryan Spak, of UCD. The project serves as a guide that helps owners that otherwise might not have been able to sell or revamp distressed properties. Many of the properties its staff helped revitalize in the past few years were first identified by neighbors. What’s particularly interesting about Project Rehab is that its staff in no way contributes finances. Instead, staff members spend time if necessary doing research to track down absent owners of homes that could be revitalized. Its end serves both the UCD's mission and improves the community. Sometimes a home is saved and rehabilitated instead of being demolished by the City with the cost being paid by taxpayers.
At 18th & Girard, across the street from the stately Church of the Gesu and Saint Joe's Prep, an old building that appears long shuttered and runs up next to a vacant triangular lot on Ridge Avenue has us thinking one thing: opportunity. For evidence, consider the range of development nearby.
Old City is one of the more interesting places to live in Philadelphia. The neighborhood has historic buildings, art galleries, upscale apartments, fancy restaurants, quality drinking establishments, horrible drinking establishments, cinemas, waterfront access, theaters, and more. It seems reasonable that with all the things the neighborhood has going for it nary a building would be vacant or blighted. But as we've seen time and time again, it simply isn't the case here. While some long-vacant properties have been fixed up in recent years, others, like the former home of Synapse Cafe have continued to languish. Today, we present 20 S. 3rd St., a building that's looked vacant for years which is now getting renovated.
In the past
We can't say we remember, but it seems that this building was once home to an umbrella store. The sign on the building refers those of us interested in online umbrella shopping to their website, which looks like the mid-1990s. You can see in the photo above that the building didn't look great, with parts of the facade possibly rotting. A year and a half ago a new owner stepped in, paying $300K for the property. As you can see, renovations are now in full swing.
For decades, Mount Sinai Hospital at 4th & Reed has stood over the South Philly landscape the way Gulliver towered over the lilliputians. Built over an almost two decade period between 1921 and 1939 and designed by architects Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris, the art deco hospital closed in 1997 and has been a vacant and lurking reminder of what was ever since.
View of the hospital from 4th & Reed
Now, as renewal efforts across various South Philly neighborhoods continue to materialize, developers have presented a new proposal to make-over the enormous parcel and convert it into 236 new units in the form of 198 apartments in the old hospital surrounded by 38 townhomes. We spotted an orange zoning app posted at the site when we passed by the other day.
A year ago, as construction was finishing up on ten homes on the northeast corner of 19th & Catharine, we loudly wondered whether anything would happen to 770 S. 19th St., the long-vacant building on the intersection's northwest corner. As three more homes have been under construction of late on the southwest corner, we've wondered some more.
The vacant building
Construction across the street
A tipster gave us the heads up last week that the vacant building has at last been sold. Checking public record, it seems that a new owner did indeed step forward last summer. Hopefully, this means that the building will soon be fixed up, and perhaps a business will open up on the first floor. Whether the commercial space in the back, which has cycled through a collection of ice cream places over the years, will remain as such remains an open question. Either way, it seems this building will soon be reoccupied and another vacant property in this neighborhood will bite the dust. No complaints here.
Despite the denial from the ZBA, the developers have gone ahead with the demoltion of the worst of their properties on the block. Permits pulled allow for the interior and exterior demolition of this property, ostensibly due to code violations. Passing by yesterday as the snow began to fall, we saw that the entire facade is gone.
For this property, we're not even sure why zoning was a consideration. With a three-story building next door, no third-floor setback is required by the code. The lot is 55' deep, which allows for a decent 38.5' deep home by right. And with so much additional development nearby, it's clear that buyers have their eyes on this intersection.
In South Kensington just north of 7th & Girard, the 1200 block of N. 7th St. presents a number of development opportunities, but here, patience may be the key. We think it’s too early for this block to see a transformation like the 2400 block of Frankford Ave. saw the past year, as the conditions on Frankford are a more favorable to development at this point in time. Still, we see the potential here should some nearby projects succeed.
New construction on the corner of 7th & Thompson
On the southwest corner of 7th & Thompson, five new structures are now being constructed, which gives us reason to think that perhaps some of the vacant properties nearby might become Naked Philly posts in the year or years to come. It's the same story on both sides of the street, with vacancies and blighted buildings.
It's a little outside of our usual geographic reach, but this one is so important that we felt we had to share. The old Roberto Clemente Middle School, located at 3921 N 5th St., has gotten approval for a complete overhaul.
First, some history:
According to Hidden City, the building was originally built as the Apex Hosiery Factory, but became a school in 1967. As the decades passed, the school fell into deplorable condition and finally closed in 1994 after a new Clemente School was constructed at 2nd & Erie. From there, the building was used as the Greater Philadelphia Book Bank, a resource that allowed teachers to pick up used school books for free. That was closed down by the School District in 2007, and the building has sat vacant since.