A decade ago, when the Graduate Hospital neighborhood still had more than its fair share of blight, the sight of a vacant building didn't really cause anybody to think twice. Today, it's a different story, with demand for homes in this neighborhood at an all time high and developers vying for an increasingly short supply of potential projects. This was pretty much the case a couple years ago too, when we wondered about the vacant building at the southeast corner of 15th & Fitzwater. Here's a look at the building in 2009, to give you an idea of why it caught our attention:
The view in 2009
The property is owned by the family that owns the Slater Funeral Home, located next door on the 1400 block of Fitzwater Street. They acquired the property over 35 years ago, but we couldn't tell you what kind of condition it was in back then. Perhaps in response to a violation, the owners installed some actual windows a couple years back to make the building seem less vacant, but we're pretty confident that it has remained empty in the years since then. But that situation seems to be changing.
While the commute from Center City is further than we'd like, the neighborhoods of northwest Philly appeal to our more scenic and geographically diverse sensibilities. The Wissahickon Valley bisects this section of the city and we've spent some time on the western half in East Falls, Roxborough, and Manayunk. We've spent very little time covering the eastern half, which is made up neighborhoods of historic German Township (which included present-day neighborhood, Germantown). In the past decade or so, this area has seen a slow increase in housing investment. Whether it’s simply market conditions, or it’s the purposeful efforts of developers involved with Jumpstart Germantown, Mt. Airy and Germantown, especially the western halves of both, are seeing some pockets of construction activity. While driving along Germantown Ave recently, we noticed an interesting mixed-use building going up at 6765 Germantown Ave.
Current view of the property
From our initial glance, this building looked like entirely new construction, but after looking at the permits, we found out it was classified as an “alteration” and that the second two stories were simply added on to an existing structure. A streetview from Google gives a clear view of the before and after of this project.
We were traveling across South Philadelphia the other day and spotted some construction projects on the 500 and 600 blocks of McKean Street, an unsurprising sight given some other development we've seen in this neck of the woods in recent years. On the 500 block, two lots at 537 and 539 McKean St. had been sitting vacant for many years and are now seeing a pair of homes rise. These homes will have some nice balconies on the upper floors, giving them a different look than the standard new construction home you'll see around town.
Two new homes on the 500 block
On the very next block, two more homes are under construction. At 606 McKean St., the same developers working on the homes on the 500 block are building another home. This is pretty clear based on the architectural similarities of the three homes. At 602 McKean St., V2 Properties is staking claim to yet another project in this area, where they've already built a ton of homes. It's clear that the home is being built by V2 both because that's what it says on public record and a sign in the window of the new home says as much.
Westrum Development was a pioneer in Brewerytown construction, building the Brewerytown Square project a little over a decade ago on a block-sized parcel that had been sitting vacant for decades. For years after, Brewerytown Square was on something of an island, surrounded by tons of vacancy. Since the market began its recovery, those properties have slowly filled in. A shopping center with a supermarket appeared to the south. The Fairmount @ Brewerytown project renovated an old warehouse across the street into apartments and retail. And Westrum doubled down on the neighborhood with the 31 Brewerytown project on the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Thompson Street, adding over a hundred new units to the neighborhood. Now Westrum is set to, uh, triple down on the neighborhood, to coin a phrase.
We aren't exactly sure what brought us to the 2400 block of Kimball Street the other day, but when you consider that there was snow all over the place at the time and it was like 70 degrees yesterday, perhaps you can forgive us for not remembering- it feels like a lifetime ago. Whatever the thought process was that brought us to the block was quickly interrupted by the sight of 2440 Kimball St. and the giant pile of garbage bags in front of it. The photos don't really do justice to the impressiveness of this pile of construction detritus.
Looking west on Kimball Street
All the garbage bags
As we said, we were there a few days ago so it's quite possible that this isn't the current situation. And in case you're wondering, this is a renovation project that will involve the addition (with an unfortunate setback, 'natch) of a 3rd floor. You can see this is a mostly intact block of two-story homes, heaven forbid a developer use a mansard roof here. On the plus side, since it's a rehab, at least they'll be maintaining the cornice line.
Starting at 16th Street, as you head east on Dickinson in Point Breeze, you'll notice several projects are currently in the early stages of construction. First we'll mention the long-vacant lot at 1537-1539 Dickinson St., a spot that was previously even more vacant until developers built a home 1541 Dickinson St. a couple years ago. While that home has been offered as a rental for the last few years, we have to imagine that the pair of homes planned next door will be listed for sale. It bears mentioning that the two homes are being built by different developers, so you shouldn't expect they'll look alike or get built on the same timeline.
Construction fence on the 1500 block
Moving to 15th Street, we see a foundation has been partially poured at the northeast corner. This double-wide property is getting developed by a single developer, who has combined two parcels into one and is in the process of building a triplex. This project had to go to the ZBA last year, and we're a little surprised they got a variance, as we don't see any particular hardship for building 3 apartments here instead of 2 homes. Some near neighbors might consider this whole project to be a hardship, as it fills in a well maintained and well used green space. So it goes so often when privately owned land is used thusly.
After unsuccessful stints as a real estate agent, a car salesman, and a mall santa, 'ol Gil finally found a business that worked for him, holding down the southwest corner of 11th & McKean for several years with a successful wholesaling business. Many businesses and organizations patronized Gil's Wholesale, getting their fix of candy, ice cream, paper goods, and of course, cigars. A few months ago though, Gil's Wholesale moved its business to Glenolden. Maybe it was parking challenges, or perhaps the lure of lower taxes that led to the move. But what we're left with is clear, a large and currently vacant building.
We've gotten regular emails over the last couple months from people wondering about 1807 Washington Ave., a building that's been under construction for quite some time and has a liquor license posting in the window. In its previous life, the building was home to a restaurant called Tasty Asia which we confess we never visited. We always did appreciate the Italian (or maybe Mexican) flag themed tile that ran up the front of the building.
A few years ago
In the last week or so, some new signage appeared here, giving us an indication that a new restaurant could be opening in the near future. The sign on the building tells us that the restaurant will be called Chick's, but we're almost certain that it has nothing to do with the Chick's Bar that had such a long run near 7th & Bainbridge and went away a few years ago. Interestingly, the new place will also incorporate the former warehouse at 1805 Washington Ave., which was last home to a produce place.
If developers and the community can get onto the same page, South Kensington could soon see another big project arrive on the scene. Currently, 1712-28 N. 2nd St. is home to a large one-story industrial building and a similarly sized vacant lot that's about 25% filled with junky cars. If you visit this property, you might think that it also includes a large vacant lot to the north, as we did, but you would be mistaken, as we were. These properties stretch all the way back to Phillip Street, a side street that curiously dead ends at some concrete barriers at the northern property line and then picks up again a few feet later.
Though it's located in one of the most established parts of town, the 3rd & Market intersection has been in a major state of flux over the last few years. As recently as 2011, you could find a cell phone store, a shirt store, a suit store, and a long-tenured Italian restaurant here. But every one of those stores is now gone. On the northeast corner, a CVS and a collection of apartments have replaced the Shirt Corner store and a collection of other buildings that it turns out weren't so structurally sound. On ther northwest corner, a new OCF Coffee House location is just a few weeks away, which seems like a nice trade for a cell phone store, even if we weren't engaging in self promotion.