Historically, there were a couple of homes at 3933 and 3935 Powelton Ave., and as was the case with many large homes in the area, they eventually got carved up into small apartment buildings. But time was not kind to these buildings, and both were torn down in the late 1990s or early 2000s, along with the two homes immediately to the west. A new home and a new duplex arrived around 2006 at 3937 and 3939, respectively, with the architecture blending in with the existing housing stock, as long as you didn’t look too carefully. Meanwhile, 3933 and 3935 continued to sit vacant, as they do today.

View of the property
Homes to the east

We’ve covered student housing development in this area ad nauseam, and this block is more attractively located than the vast majority of the projects we’ve seen move forward in the last decade. So what gives? Why have so many inferior properties been developed while this one has sat vacant for all this time? We don’t have complete information, but we’re pretty comfortable saying that it’s probably best to blame the Red Cross for the situation.

We admit, that sounds crazy on its face, but let us explain. The City of Philadelphia took both of these properties via sheriff’s sale back in 2002, and within a couple years, gave them to the Red Cross for a dollar. In case you’re not familiar with this immediate area, there’s a Red Cross House right across the street, which provides short term accommodations to families displaced by disaster in this region. Per their website, last year they helped 304 families, providing almost 20,000 overnight stays and nearly 60K meals. So yeah, the Red Cross House is a crucially important resource that does a huge amount of good every single day.

We have to think that the need outweighs the physical space at the Red Cross House and that the City gave them the nearby lots with an eye toward a future expansion of some kind. Unfortunately, nothing came to fruition over the course of the last fifteen years. While additional capacity would certainly be a positive, more funding is also a desirable outcome, so we’re pleased to share that the Red Cross sold the two lots to a developer for a tidy sum of $370K. That developer is now looking to build a ten-unit building on the site which will surely target students. Only 6 units are permitted by right, so it’ll be up to the ZBA as to whether the project will move forward.

Gas station to the west

Additional space for the Red Cross House would have been a wonderful use for these lots, but it seems it wasn’t meant to be. Fortunately, there’s a sizable property right across the street that could serve as an even better location for the Red Cross- the Getty gas station. There are a staggering number of gas stations in this area, and while we’d generally applaud anything replacing a gas station, an expanded Red Cross House would certainly be a wonderful substitute. Of course, we don’t see the owner of that property handing it over at anything less than market value, so perhaps a wealthy donor out there will step in and generously buy the gas station and donate the land to the Red Cross. We’re not saying it’s gonna happen, but it sure would be a terrific story if it somehow did.