There’s been a staggering amount of new construction in West Philadelphia over the last several years, as developers have gobbled up vacant land or underused properties and built new student housing. Near Baltimore Avenue, we’ve started to see this development move past 50th Street. Farther north though, we can’t think of much new construction past 46th or 47th Street. That’s why we were so surprised to hear from a reader that spotted some major renovation activity on 52nd Street, north of Chestnut. Our mind immediately went to student housing, because that’s pretty much all we ever cover when we write about West Philly.
In the past, 20 S. 52nd St. was home to an Olympia Sports location on the first floor, while the upper floors were boarded up and made the building look generally lousy. Still, the building had some great bones, with a notable feature being an old sign at the top that dubbed it the ‘Nixon Building.’ We don’t know for sure, but we have to think that the building got this name because the Nixon Theatre stood next door for many decades, until its demolition in the 1980s.
If you visit the property today, you’ll see that it’s getting a major overhaul.
Developers bought this building last year, and the $440K purchase price reflects greater investor interest in this corridor than we would have expected. But then again, with all the student housing development in the vicinity, we can understand why investors might try to get a foothold on 52nd Street before others start looking at it more closely. We were thinking that this project could signal a wave of new student housing projects on 52nd Street and thought about the possibility that the corridor could be in for some major changes.
Looking at the permits though, we see that student housing isn’t in the offing at all. Instead, the owners are renovating the building to accommodate additional retail space on the upper floors, all for the sale of clothing and accessories. Assuming Olympia Sports is reopening at this address, it will be one of their most impressive locations in town. And if it’s some other retailer, they’re going to have a ton of space to hawk their wares. Whatever the retailer, we feel confident that it won’t be patronized by too many students living on the block, at least not in the immediate future.