Historic Imitation on Diamond Street is Working Pretty Well

We keep noticing something strange whenever we find ourselves on Diamond Street just beyond Temple’s campus. While the rest of the blocks in this part of town are absolutely littered with shiny new by-right walk-up plexes rented by the room to students, Diamond Street seems to be stuck in place — a time capsule fresh from 2007. Or rather, 1907. Except… with every visit to Diamond Street, we could swear that the number of vacant lots was decreasing.

Last week, we caught a couple of developers in the act near 18th & Diamond- they were digging a foundation near the corner, and pouring one a few houses down. Closer to the middle of the block, there was a clearly-brand-new plex — one that looked exactly like its neighbors, complete with a brownstone stoop and fa├žade accents.

Two getting started on the 1700 block
 
Our curiosity piqued, we found, on Google Streetview, around a dozen brand-new by-right buildings. Like buildings near 16th and Diamond, they blend into the streetscape, featuring the same kind of brickwork and rough-hewn brownstone accents and stoops. The only real difference is, though, that some of them have dramatically simplified cornices.
 

1600 block back in 2009

Mix of old and new on the 1600 block

Perhaps you're wondering why Diamond’s new infill is so invisible, melting into the streetscape without getting noticed. Maybe you're wishing for more big bay windows here, as are so common on 17th and 18th Streets? As you may recall, Diamond Street is a historic district, extending west of Broad to Van Pelt Street. Its historic-district status makes using designs that might work elsewhere around Temple difficult, and means that it's a requirement to maintain the Queen Anne rhythm. We actually wondered about how well this would work out a few years ago, and we're pleased to see that most of the new buildings look like they've been here for a really long time, at least at a quick glance.

New buildings on the 1500 block

At a certain level, Diamond Street is more than the sum of its parts. Designs like what we’d find in Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Southwest Center City would fit in poorly. Designing the infill to mimic its neighbors is by far the most respectful solution. Diamond Street is all about the whole — subvert the whole, and you’d lose what makes the street so special.