West Philly has long been one of our favorite parts of the city from an architectural standpoint, and we’re not alone in that opinion. The wide variety of older homes and buildings gives this part of town a character all of its own. Like we’ve said many times, they don’t build ’em like they used to. So it was especially heart-wrenching when we got word that demolition is on the way for several structures around the corner of 41st & Walnut. Alas, the one thing that did lighten our mood as we approached the doomed buildings was the sure sign that campus life has returned to the city…
After chugging a few with the bros (okay, just one), we turned our focus again to the properties in question. Let’s run through them, shall we? 4040 and 4042 Walnut Street are combined twins that are currently used as a fraternity house. 4044-50 Walnut St. is a small apartment building which also includes a little surface parking lot on the southeast corner of 41st & Walnut. Then there’s 213-219 S. 41st St., beige-painted student apartment buildings which have maintained numerous original architectural details even though they’ve surely seen some stuff over the years.
The buildings are all seemingly in good condition on the outside and they clearly add to the character of the area. They all possess handsome-if-not-stunning architecture, with 4040-42 Walnut St. being a step above, but none of them are on the local historic register. This means that they can be demolished at any time, now that permits are in hand.
All of these properties are owned by an affiliate of Campus Apartments, a company which owns approximately a billion units in University City. Not only is Campus Apartments a property manager and a landlord, but they’re also a developer. At some point in the relatively near future, this company will have an assemblage of vacant land that’s about 32K sqft in size and is located at an incredibly desirable location, pretty much as close to Penn’s campus as you can get. It stands to reason that they will pursue a sizable project at this location, in line with some of the buildings we’ve seen go up nearby in the last few years. Figure on a six or seven story building with gobs of units and a bit of underground parking as well. We could also see something vertical like the nearby Hub at 4oth & Chestnut, or maybe something even taller.
On the one hand, the consolidation of these properties into one and the injection of density at this excellent location is a big win. Philadelphia doesn’t have nearly enough housing and not only is this location close to a major university, but it’s near public transportation and is easily accessible to Center City. On the other hand, we will be extremely sad to see these buildings meet their end. They all appear to be in good shape and all are currently functional, we suspect as student housing. Surely, any building that rises in their place won’t have nearly as much architectural character, and that’s definitely a loss.
From what we can tell, a mixed-use project on the entirely of this site will require a zoning variance. If we’re correct, then the ultimate fate of these properties is still to be determined by a community process and the ZBA. Be that as it may, the permits are issued and the demolition is not up for debate. So we expect some back and forth on the yet to be revealed plans for this site, even as the demolition of the existing buildings is fait accompli. Stay tuned, as there’s surely more to come on these properties before their next steps come fully into focus.