We Wonder About a Vacant Lot on Spruce Street Near Penn

Over the years, several readers have asked us about the unexpectedly vacant lot on the 4000 block of Spruce Street in West Philly. The eastern end of this block is the end of Penn's campus, and includes a Dental School building. And there's an arcade over there too! By the time you reach 41st Street, you'll see a couple dozen gorgeous restored Victorian homes, pretty much exclusively inhabited (and abused) by Penn undergrads. But smack in the middle of the block, there's a lot that's been vacant for as long as we can remember.

Vacant lot

Closer look

We would have guessed that the lot was owned by Penn, who we could imagine might not feel any pressure to build at any given time. Still, considering the institutional construction all over West Philly, it still seemed surprising to us that Penn would hold onto this lot and not develop something. So it came as a kind of huge shock to us to learn that 4041-45 Spruce St. are actually privately owned, according to public record. The lots were purchased by University City Housing, along with a collection rental properties in the area, back in 1985.

So a private company has held these lots for thirty years, and hasn't tried to redevelop them yet as far as we can tell. Does that seem strange to anyone else? Considering the rental rates that developers are getting for new construction on Baring and Haverford, we can only imagine the numbers on Spruce Street. Does anyone have any insight into why these lots have sat vacant all these years? And does anyone remember what stood here before?