west philly local

The end of a long battle with the community

Another historic building in West Philadelphia has met its ruin. Demolition wrapped up recently the Levy-Leas House, an 1850s Italianate mansion at 40th & Pine, marking the end of a long fight between neighbors and Penn officials who over the years have proposed various projects there, at times prompting neighbors to call on the school to be more responsible. We first covered this property over four years ago.

Building will be sold instead

This past winter, when Mission First Housing Group announced plans to demolish the burned out building at 4534-36 Spruce St. and construct affordable housing, there was a sigh of relief. Since catching fire in 2011, the building that previously hosted the Transition to Independent Living Center has sat unoccupied, a bruise in an otherwise very strong Spruce Hill neighborhood.

In the past

However, due in part to budget issues, namely, not having had funds allocated for the 24-unit affordable housing project, Mission First has tabled their proposal, West Philly Local has reported. Instead, the building is for sale. WPL indicated that one neighbor in particular was aggressively opposed to the project and planned to appeal any favorable ruling from the ZBA. This mirrors comments Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association's zoning chair, made to us several months ago, about various concerns voiced by neighbors. At that time, developers were in conversation with the SHCA, community and neighbors for months. Those conversations were related to height and massing, not the fact that these units were planned as affordable housing. With the building now for sale, it's a shame to see something so long and so far along fizzle out.

Six new triplexes fill in a long-vacant lot

In West Philly, change has finally occurred on the southwest corner of 46th & Sansom, a parcel that has been vacant for many years. A little over a year ago, we noticed the beginnings of construction activity at this site, and mentioned plans for six quadplexes. Last winter, it looked like the project was stalled, though we were pleased to see some blighted buildings getting torn down across the street.

Now a vacant lot on the southeast corner

Last month, West Philly Local reported that building was happening on the southwest corner, with a flatbed dropping off modular sections of new buildings. The project is called Sansom Street Flats, and has changed somewhat since our original report. Instead of quadplexes, it's triplexes. Like much of the construction in West Philadelphia in recent years, the architecture won't really do justice to the existing buildings in the neighborhood. We wish the developers would have opted for something that looked like the buildings that once stood here but that was probably a pipe dream.

Maybe a private school will come in? Or some other business

Renovations have begun on a 115-year-old church at 47th & Kingsessing that last year was slated for demolition.

View of the former church

Two years ago L&I had issued a 30-day repair or demolish notice, and last year, when the church was close to demolition, a neighborhood response led to the St. Peter's Church of Christ being saved, West Philly Local reported. The church will be redeveloped by Guy Laren, who purchased the building this winter, with a private school as a likely tenant.

When we passed by recently, workers were busy preparing the exterior for improvements. According to WPL, Laren organized with Aaron Wunsch, a historic preservation professor at Penn, and former mayor Wilson Goode Sr. for help mobilizing resources to save the church, which was designed by Frank Furness' firm. For Wunsch, preservation of the neighborhood landmark was not only appealing because his career is centered around architectural preservation, but also because he lives in the neighborhood. 

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.