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 façade accents.
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.
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.