Sydenham Street, which runs between 15th & 16th Streets, is one of those random north-south streets in Philadelphia that comes and goes as you move through town. If you're at all familiar with it, it's probably because you've been to the incarnation near Temple University, or the one-block stretch between Walnut and Locust that's home to Elixr. Today though, we turn our gaze to the 1100 block, the only block of Sydenham Street in all of Point Breeze. We actually visited this block, which starts on Federal Street and dead-ends before it gets to Ellsworth, a couple years back.
At the time, the block was a total mess. Only a handful of homes on the block were occupied. Many vacant buildings looked like they were ready to crumble. And we saw a bunch of vacant lots too. But our message was one of hope. One of the vacant buildings was getting rehabbed, and two of the vacant lots were getting developed. That rehab is currently on the market, and both of those homes have been built and sold.
Looking up the block
Today the block is still pretty far from looking like Delancey Street, but it's slowly making positive strides. On the east side of the block, a new home has appeared and a second one is under construction.
It was over three years ago that we first brought 1601 Mount Vernon St., the "Purvis House," to your attention, lamenting the poor condition of this historic structure. In case you don't remember and don't feel like clicking back to the old story, the building was constructed in 1859 and was once home to Robert Purvis, a man considered to be the "President of the Underground Railroad." It's likely that Purvis helped thousands of former slaves achieve freedom. Today, what's left of his former home remains in bad shape.
Looking down 16th Street
Miguel Santiago bought the property in 1977 and still owns it today. Several times, he's proposed redeveloping the property, most recently coming up with a plan to develop three condo units plus parking. In November of 2012, the rear of the property came down, either intentionally or because years of vacancy caused part of the building to crumble. In the years since, the rubble has been cleared and a hole in the ground has been filled, but no other work has taken place from what we can tell. Earlier this year, the owner altered a permit from 2011 to replace the eastern wall of the building with salvaged brick. But it doesn't look like that has happened as of yet, nor would we swear that it will ever happen.
Back in 2011, when the Southstar Lofts project was still just a twinkle in Carl Dranoff's eye, we brought 1323-25 South St. to your attention, lamenting its blighted condition. At the time, we gave you all the details on the property, which has been owned by a gentleman named Donald Turner since 1997. The building has a 2,240 sqft footprint and probably has an interesting history, but we can't find anything about it. Sadly, today it looks pretty much the way it did when we first told you about it more than three years ago.
It's been vacant for quite some time
But just when we thought the building would never get redeveloped, it seems that it could finally return to active use. Last month, signs appeared on the building announcing a presentation at a Washington Square West Civic Association zoning meeting.
A couple of weeks ago, we heard some legitimate complaints from a reader living on the 1500 block of Brown St. about the condition of several of the properties on the 1500 block of Ridge Ave. which back up to her property. Not only are the properties an eyesore, but one of them apparently caught fire a little while back. Thankfully, the fire department was able to take care of things before the fire spread. We recently made our way over there and can certainly appreciate why someone wouldn't enjoy having some of these properties behind their home.
Backs of buildings on Ridge Ave., view from Brown Street
Some of the properties on this block have been renovated while others are long vacant and in terrible condition.
About a year ago, we wrote about N. 7th Street between Girard and Thompson, a blighted block in need of a facelift and dotted with potential for development. We were drawn to this block by a project at the corner of 7th & Thompson that was at that time under construction but is now complete. We noted several blighted buildings and vacant lots that begged for redevelopment just to the south of the new development, but we wondered whether it would take several years of additional Northern Liberties and Fishtown development before builders would take more of an interest in the block. It turns out it didn't even take twelve months.
According to permits approved by the ZBA for 1216-20 N. 7th St. in late January, there are plans for six new triplexes on the block. Rb3 Thompson LLC bought the lots last summer and are rearranging the lot lines to create additional density. The zoning notice mentions turning four lots into six, so we wonder whether the additional lot is to the west on Franklin Street. The parcels are oddly zoned commercial and the new project will be strictly residential, which seems appropriate given the character of the block.
Old City is great. It's where America was born! The architecture is wonderful. The stores are plentiful and adorable. There's like a million coffee shops. First Friday is always a good choice. And on a Saturday night in some establishments, it's like visiting New Jersey without having to pay a toll.
The neighborhood is extremely well established, having gone through a major development push years ago. Of late, we've covered multiple residential developments in the area, with several high-end homes currently under construction and the massive 205 Race project finally on the way we hope. In spite of all the great stuff in the neighborhood though, there's still a number of blighted properties to be found. One of them, thankfully, is on the way out.
Generally when we cover development in East Kensington, it's on Coral Street or Amber Street, or perhaps on some of the upper blocks of Frankford Avenue. Today though, we look at the easy-to-miss 2600 block of Martha Street, a block which has seen significant changes in the last few years. Check out this image from 2011 to get a sense of what we're talking about:
Back in 2011
Holy crap, this is terrible. At the corner of Albert Street there's an apparently occupied home, but next door all we see is vacant land and blight. One of the buildings on the block literally looks like Swamp Thing. We visited this block last week and it's a radically different experience.
The home on the corner is all that remains from the previous photo. Next door, at 2615 Martha St., a single family home is under construction. Next to that is another home that was recently built and sold. Moving further down the block are three homes that we think are rentals, owned by the Fishtown Redevelopment Authority. Guessing they're not affiliated with the PRA?
Last April, we brought the corner of Sepviva & E. Firth to your attention, noting the early stages of a six-home development. Previously at this corner, there was a City-owned basketball court that was in poor condition, and according to commenters it was rarely used for play and occasionally used for drug dealing. So no loss there.
In the past
We passed by this corner the other day and it seems that the project is done.
Five homes on Sepviva St.
We can only find the sales of some of the homes on public record, but from the looks of it, most if not all of the homes have found buyers. Architecturally, the row of new homes certainly stands out from the older homes in the neighborhood, and for us they evoke a bit of a Lego feel. Still, those front balconies will surely be a treat once the warmer weather rolls around.
Over the summer, we directed our gaze to the 1400 block of Germantown Avenue, lamenting its poor state but looking toward an improved future. Though the block is still pretty much a disaster, you can actually see the progress taking place is you pass by today. In general, the block is humming, with several different projects taking place at the same time.
In June, we told you about a proposed five-home development at 1404 Germantown Ave., which was at that time a vacant lot. Back then, it had been continued by the ZBA. By July, the project got approval. And in the last couple of months, construction began. You can see, two of the five homes are being framed out now. Additional homes will follow.
Up the street, several blighted properties are in the process of being demolished. As these images are a couple of days old, you'd have to imagine that the demo process has gotten even further along at this point. 1428 Germantown Ave., which looks like it's had some work done in recent years, won't be coming down. As for what's next, we couldn't tell you. No permits have gone out for the properties currently being demolished. But their disappearance will improve the block and you'd have to think that something will soon replace them.
The months keep falling off the calendar and development around Temple has continued to buzz. Derelict buildings have been demolished and replaced with shiny new (often boring) buildings. Lots that sat vacant for decades have turned over. So much construction has happened here of late, people who graduated even five years ago wouldn't even recognize their former neighborhood.
While all of this makes perfect sense in the abstract, we figured we'd give you a visual example of just how much change has come to a random intersection in the area. There's no particular reason we picked 12th & Dauphin, but it certainly illustrates the point. Check out some images of what the area looked like back in 2009, thanks to the brilliance of the Google Maps Time Machine feature.