Changes continue for this little block

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.

And maybe a new neighbor

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. 

Dresses up the playground near Pat's and Geno's

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.

Phase 2 of project moving along

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.

Next to planned Liberty Square development

Several months ago, we told you about the ongoing renovation of a mixed-use building on the 200 block of W. Girard Ave., located around the corner from the Piazza and even closer to the neighborhood's still-newish supermarket. That project is still progressing, and should soon be approaching the finish line.

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.

Tearing down churches isn't just a recent fad

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.

Hopefully it will inspire change at some vacant properties

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.

Framing ongoing

Further east, two zoning notices have been posted recently.

A reader was surprised the other day when they spotted a mural on a newish house on the northeast corner of Smedley & Fitzwater. Murals, from what we understand, are a complex undertaking that typically takes considerable planning and a decent amount of time to complete. That's to say that they typically don't pop up overnight. But that's just what has seemingly happened here. Or have we just not visited this block in the last few weeks?


It's true that the mural covers an otherwise uninspiring blank wall, and Mr. Mandela is certainly the type of international figure deserving depiction in public art. But if you look a little more closely at the new piece, you'll notice that it has one unfortunate feature that we hope is corrected soon.

About a week ago, we found ourselves on the corner of 16th & Montgomery, and noted that a mural (with a lousy message for kids) appeared to be on the outs, as it was surrounded by a construction fence. Just to the north, we spotted a collection of still-under-construction multi-unit homes that we simply assumed were part of a different project. The home upon which the mural was painted seemed like a convenient marker of sorts, separating what was almost definitely a big student housing development from what would likely soon be another student housing development. As recently as a couple of years ago, the mural home sat on an island, surrounded by a sea of vacant land.

Over a year ago, we brought 2835-37 W. Girard Ave. to your attention. Formerly a pizza place, a fire took place here several years ago, leaving the building in its currently blighted state. Recently, the owner has cleaned up the facade some, taking our advice by adding something that resembles a mural to the first floor.

In 2009
Early 2012
Recent shot

Not only do you notice a less horrible-looking first floor, but you may also have spotted a 'For Sale' sign as well. The building is currently listed for $450K, and includes a 2,000 sqft commercial space and six apartments. Obviously, the building needs a ton of work, but the upside could be worth it for the right buyer. And for the sake of folks who live and work nearby, we hope that an investor steps up soon- this building has been dragging down this block for too many years.