west philly local

Long time coming after 2011 fire

Since fire swept through the Transition to Independent Living Facility at 4536 Spruce St. in 2011, the building has sat, a burned out memory, with its facade still intact. That state of idleness will continue, at least for now, as a timeline for redevelopment of the parcel by Mission First Housing Group into 24 affordable-housing units is still up in the air.

“We're in limbo right now,” said Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association zoning chair.

Current view of the property

Developers last appeared before the SHCA in December. According to Grossbach, the SCHA is working with them to address a neighbor's concern—the owner of the adjacent Kingsbury apartment building, who is worried about how close the new building will approach his own. There's also the final streetscape, and landscape issues to be addressed.

Developers substantially decreased the setback following earlier meetings, but final designs are still being considered, Grossbach said, calling it “a work in progress,” and adding “there's no time frame at this point.” The building would include one- and two-bedroom apartments aimed at individuals earning less than $36K a year, according to the West Philly Local.

Building could finally get the renovation it craves

Early this new year across the school district, new charter schools are looking for homes—and as many as 12 are interested in laying roots in West Philly, according to the West Philly Local.  One proposal would turn a part of the disused former West Philadelphia High School at 4700 Walnut St. into the Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School.

View of just one section of the school

Back in the fall of 2012 we announced plans from Strong Place Partners, a New York firm that wanted to purchase the property and renovate the former school into 300 apartments and 15K sqft of ground-floor retail. Since then, the building has remained as it last stood when students multiplied two sides of an equation by X, and graffiti has joined the facade in addition to general wear. For all sights, the building stands out as an entire block where nothing but old an empty building is happening, and across the street stretches a vacant lot where grass grows, slow now, freezing sometimes in winter.

Minor change at 43rd & Baltimore in the big picture

For many years, we delighted in the fact that a pizza place at 43rd & Baltimore thought it was a good idea to call themselves "Wurst House Pizzeria." And it was definitely a sad moment for us back in 2006 when new ownership came in and inaccurately renamed the place "Best House Pizzeria." While it was indeed a house of pizza (and beer), there was little about the place that could be classified as best, unless you were looking for the best place near 43rd & Baltimore to snag a mediocre slice of pizza. In that sense, the name was very apt indeed. But none of that matters anymore because Best House Pizzeria has closed its doors.

Shuttered business
Signs on the door

According to West Philly Local, the folks behind Local 44 and Memphis Taproom will be taking over the place and renaming it Clarkville Beer. There's no additional info on the concept as of yet, but if history is any indication based on their transformation of Kelliann's into Local 44, they will do a solid job creating a beer destination for the neighborhood. Hopefully, the place will continue to serve food.

Just not where we originally thought

In West Philly, the site where a fire took a neighborhood favorite on Christmas Eve in 2012 will become the newest site for Greensgrow, an organization dedicated to increasing healthy and fresh produce options in underserved urban areas.

Beginning in April, Greensgrow will take over the former site of Elena's Soul at 4912 Baltimore Ave., which has remained vacant since the building was demolished following the fire, the West Philly Local reported. The site will operate as an urban farm growing small plant starts and trees; there will also be workshops and a small farmer's market, according to the WPL.

The vacant lot

Greensgrow will fit a need that community members have already voiced. This summer, interested neighbors hosted community meetings to collect input and discuss the possibility of opening a Greesngrow location at the vacant triangular parcel at 51st & Baltimore. That possibility became strained earlier this year, when issues surfaced between the City, eminent domain, and the owners of vacant, bruised buildings along the 5000 block of Baltimore.

Azalea Gardens, a graduate student housing complex, is the latest proposal in a long-contested battle over how to redevelop a historic Italianate mansion located at 400 S. 40th St., which is owned by Penn.

Between Farragut & Market Streets in West Philly, onions and tomatoes will soon be joined by people relaxing. That's where a community park is just about finished being constructed by The Enterprise Center, where it will couple with the already existing Walnut Hill Community Farm.

Park slash farm

According to the West Philly Local, new features include solar paneled lighting and various new seating configurations designed to offer a relaxing environment- as relaxing as it can get next to the El.

One of the three businesses that closed after a Christmas Eve fire at Elena’s Soul at 49th & Baltimore will reopen by mid-August, according to the West Philly Local.

It’s been over a year since we first told you about it, but now it's official: a new Fine Wine and Good Spirits is coming, likely by midsummer, to 43rd & Chestnut in University City. Two spots in a shopping center that were last occupied by a check cashing store and Risque Video will be combined into a single retail space for the liquor store. The store will feature a more diverse collection of offerings than many other Pennsylvania State Stores.

Future liquor store

“I think the group who will be most excited about it I think, frankly, are the students at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association chair.

One of the seeds on the budding Baltimore Ave. commercial corridor suffered a tragic end on the afternoon of Christmas Eve when Elena’s Soul burnt down just shy of 50th and Baltimore in West Philadelphia.

In 2009
Recent shot

The hope is its neighboring businesses, Gary’s Nails and the Cedar Park Café, can survive the structural stress created by the demolition of Elena’s, which was declared unsafe by L&I.  Felled debris during demolition caused severe damage to Gary’s Nails, which itself might also have to be condemned, according to excerpts from a letter written by the owner of Elena’s, published in the West Philly Local (WPL).

One of the most appealing off the main thoroughfare neighborhood parks we’ve encountered in a while, sits in West Philly at the corner of 48th and Chester streets, locked up and largely unused.

An entrance

Squirrel Hill Falls Park was envisioned by local artist Danielle Rousseau Hunter. It’s a cozy forest-like corner pocket lot with a waterfall mural on its back wall. From the mid-80s until the mid-90s, Rousseau Hunter spearheaded efforts that corralled resources of neighbors and city and state offices, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, including donations to design and complete the park. But its use ultimately became a neighborhood saga, according to this 1996 City Paper article.