A long vacant building at 1654 Ridge Ave. changed hands a few months ago, and the developers will soon go to the ZBA for permission to build an addition on the existing structure, with plans for ground-floor retail and seven apartments above. This building once contained a pharmacy and a doctor's office, according to an old listing, but if you live nearby you probably know it as the building with a bunch of murals, including a memorial mural for someone named Wee. We're pretty sure it's all DIY, with no association with Mural Arts, and if that's indeed the case it's one of the best community murals we've ever seen. That being said, we imagine the new owners will remove it once they start construction.
Next door, the former home of Gilbert Shoes also continues to sit vacant, though some long dormant permits were modified over the summer. Perhaps this building will also get renovated in the coming months, though it's unfortunate that such a renovation would likely mean the elimination of the wonderful sign that looks like it's been there for decades.
Technically, the Graduate Hospital neighborhood only has one true public green space, and that's Julian Abele Park, located on 22nd Street between Montrose and Carpenter. This park was founded a few years ago and provides a sliver of grass and trees for the community, also hosting concerts, birthday parties, and other neighborhood events. In the early morning light, it's a pretty and peaceful space.
Early morning view of the park
2132 Montrose St. sits immediately adjacent to the park and has been the object of countless discussions over the years. As the park was coalescing, it was a nuisance property. Around 2011, developer and former restaurateur Ilkur Ugur purchased the property, got rid of the problem tenants, and made some exterior improvements to the property. It's around that time that the mural that we see today arrived on the scene.
It was at the end of 2011 that we first brought your attention to seven homes, then new, at the corner of Mascher & Master in South Kensington. A developer with ties to Tower Investments, or maybe just a subsidiary, had demolished an old warehouse and had plans to build dozens of additional homes at this location, wrapping around Master and Howard Streets. But since then, it's been mostly radio silence. In 2013, some heavy equipment on Howard Street suggested that this project might be ramping up, but it was just a false alarm. Now, finally, we're seeing some new progress.
Last week, a hole in the ground at Howard & Master
At the corner of Howard & Master, with views of a sweet South Kensington mural, a reader recently spotted a new hole. According to permits, three homes will soon rise here. We're getting some mixed messages as we search different public record sources, but we believe a new developer has purchased these lots, and this construction will have no direct bearing on the larger project planned for the block. But perhaps this small amount of construction, along with much more significant construction a few paces away, will inspire the developers to revisit this property.
For a narrow block with homes on only one side, the 1900 block of Alter Street has seen quite a bit of change in recent years. Perhaps the biggest change occurred about three years ago, when a row of five new construction homes replaced a vacant lot. Remember, across the street from those homes there's a cool mural that makes a warehouse wall resemble row homes if you look at it quickly. Also, Greenstreet Coffee Roasters has their roasting facility on the north side of this block, which is why the area sometimes smells like roasting coffee.
Looking east on the 1900 block of Alter St.
Newer homes on the south side
Two more vacant lots are now on the outs on this block, at 1902 and 1904 Alter St.
Remember Manton Street Park? Back in the summer of 2011, a collection of near neighbors cleaned up this long vacant parcel at the corner of 4th & Manton, turning it into a pocket park and community garden. In short order, they learned that the City owned lots had already been sold to a developer, and it looked like the open space would be redeveloped into new homes. Things looked grim for this little patch of green on Manton Street. But after months of discussions a compromise was reached, the developers agreed to build fewer homes, and the block kept its pocket park. Today, it's looking pretty sweet.
Manton Street Park
Recently, work began on a new mural that will further brighten up Manton Street Park. The artist is David Guinn, the guy who painted the now-covered Autumn in Bella Vista and the still-visible Winter: Crystal Snowscape. When we passed by today, the artist was onsite, doing his thing.
Capitolo Playground in Passyunk Square, is one of our favorite neighborhood parks in town, even though it was built atop a former cemetery. Now, the completion of a new mural on the playground building is a testament to one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city. It's also one of two beautification projects planned in the neighborhood right now, with plans for another mural at 10th & Washington this winter. The mural features a collection of diverse faces, young and old, as though you were simply walking down the street in this neighborhood. That the faces have been painted on the wall, larger than life, might remind us to the simple beauty of anyone's face, the marvel that we’re even here to begin with.
As recently as 2011, the northwest corner of 16th & Montgomery was a desolate place. One home with a creepy mural was surrounded by so many vacant lots. It should come as no surprise that all the lots on this corner were owned by City agencies.
Just a couple of years ago
Last summer, we visited the area and showed you that the lots to the north of the home had disappeared. And we warned you that the lots to the south were on the outs. Along with the unfortunate mural. Passing by last week, we discovered that the buildings we previously covered are finished and the lots closer to the corner are under construction.
Looking east on Girard toward the El. Scaffolding is still up but they're getting there.
While it's nice to provide an update on a project we previously covered, today we're far more interested in the long-vacant lot just a few doors to the west. 225-29 W. Girard Ave. has been vacant for as long as we can remember. A reader tipped us off that it was listed for sale earlier this month for $400K which we confess seems like a pretty high price considering the property's location and odd shape. Still, if someone were to purchase this lot it would represent an interesting development opportunity.
Nobody likes a gas station in the city. Low-slung and stinky, they're a necessary evil in our ever-more-car-dependent society. If you're in Center City, and you can't get to Jersey for your gasoline needs, you're probably visiting one of the handful of gas stations scattered around our downtown cityscape. One gas station, on the northwest corner of 22nd & Walnut, has two murals that both pretty up the location and refer to the corner's history.
According to a plaque on the site, the Saint James Protestant Episcopal Church stood on this corner for eighty years. The structure was built in 1870, renovated to include a tower by 1911, and demolished in 1946. The structure was striking example of church architecture on this high-profile corner. An elaborate building on Walnut Street made the corner all the more impressive.
Saint James Protestant Episcopal Church in 1933
Looking west on Walnut Street. Note the gorgeous building next door to the church which is also lost.
In 1995, Sunoco commissioned two murals, hiring artist Michael Webb and Susan Maxman Architects for the job. On 22nd Street, faux-windows have been painted on the adjacent property, and a shadow is cast by the missing church. On Walnut Street, more contemporary windows show an illustration of the missing church on a sunny day.
We've visited the 1500 block of Manton Street in Point Breeze a few times over the years, most recently to tell you about a DIY mural on some plywood covering the front of a vacant home on the block. Passing by today, it looks like the plywood might fall off at any minute. Anyone nearby have a finish nailer?
Looks like it's falling off the building
Across the street, there's a new home under construction and two more homes on the way. 1532 Manton St. has been framed out and guys were working on the site today. The parcel changed hands last year and the developer is putting up a new three story home. We suspect it will sell for over $350K, like 1501 Manton St. down the street. There's another vacant lot right next door that's owned by another party, but no permits have been pulled of late so we don't know that anything will be happening there anytime soon.
Further east, two zoning notices have been posted recently.