Buildings Then and Now: From hospital to homes

The intersection of 18th and Bainbridge streets today. Photo by the author.

The intersection of 18th and Bainbridge streets today. Photo by the author.

Before Graduate Hospital was Graduate Hospital, it was a neighborhood that had historically been home to Philadelphia’s black middle class but had fallen on hard times since the 1960s. Many of the institutions that black middle class built remain — the churches, the Christian Street YMCA — but some, such as the Hotel Brotherhood USA, have changed purpose, and others, such as the Southwest-Belmont YWCA, have disappeared, their buildings awaiting a new future.

The nondescript block of townhomes that occupy the plot of land bordered by Colorado, Bainbridge, 18th and Fitzwater streets marked the first major redevelopment effort in the neighborhood. Built in the late 1970s, it was called “Fort Bainbridge” by some of its first residents, a nickname that arose in part from its compound-like appearance and in part from its location in what was then considered a rough neighborhood. These homes, however, also occupy the site of what was probably the neighborhood institution best known outside it — a world-renowned institution that, had it stayed in the neighborhood, might have imparted its name to it the way the hospital just across South Street from it did later. (more…)

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 19th, 2014
Filed under: Graduate Hospital,Philadelphia real estate

Weekend Winners: April 18-20

The Oval returns for a second season of outdoor fun with Farm Fest today and tomorrow. Expect more events like this every weekend from now through the late fall. Photos by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia.

The Oval returns for a second season of outdoor fun with Farm Fest today and tomorrow. Expect more events like this every weekend from now through the late fall. Photos by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia.

Farm-themed fun, flea markets and finery are on tap this weekend.

Friday, April 18

Down on the farm on the Oval: The first weekend of the 2014 season of the Oval brings a touch of the country to the city with “Farm Fest,” a weekend full of farm-ified food, music and activities for folks of all ages. This evening, visitors to the Oval can enjoy street fare from a variety of food trucks, beer from the Victory Brewpub Mobile Beer Garden, music from the Highwater Preachers and a screening of the made-in-Philly film Witness. Tomorrow, the festival has an Easter theme with plenty of kid-friendly events, including an Easter egg hunt, a petting zoo and tree-climbing. There’s also live clogging, blues-rock music and a food-truck feast.

Farm Fest at The Oval: 5 to 9 p.m. tonight and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow at Eakins Oval, 24th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway opposite the Art Museum. Free.

Saturday, April 19

Strawbridge’s comes alive again: We don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that Franklin Flea, the emporium that made its debut last fall on the first floor of the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store, is actually channeling the ghost of Stockton Strawbridge. The family patriarch wanted his store to be a place of wonder and discovery, and that’s exactly what Franklin Flea offers with its eclectic mix of merchants offering vintage goods and original creations. Its six-week indoor season, which starts today, will offer a changing mix of sellers each Saturday, thus keeping the experience fresh with every visit. New this spring is the Franklin Stove, a food booth that will give a different local chef each week a chance to shine. Inaugurating that space today will be Eli Kulp of High Street on Market.

Franklin Flea: 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. today and every Saturday through May 24 at the former Strawbridge & Clothier, 801 Market St. Free to enter; merchandise and food as priced.

Sunday, April 20

A South Street tradition returns: Philly’s oldest Easter parade returns to South Street for the 83rd time today. Put on your Easter Sunday best and make your way to 5th and South streets for the start of the South Street Easter Promenade at 12:30 p.m. From there, the parade heads down South Street to the plaza at 2nd Street, where judges will choose the best dressed promenaders in a dozen different age and gender categories, not to mention best-dressed pooch. The festivities include live performances from the Philadelphia Freedom Band, Easter treats, a “Bunny Hop” and more. And it’s all over around 2:30 p.m., giving you time to enjoy Easter brunch.

The 83rd Annual Easter Promenade: Parade steps off from Passyunk Avenue and South Street at 12:30 p.m. and ends at the 2nd Street plaza. Free.

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 18th, 2014
Filed under: Art Museum,Articles,Center City,Queen Village,Society Hill

Lunchtime Quick Hits

Living up to its name, Philadelinquency gives us a vivid and colorful portrait of the city’s property tax deadbeats; Wash West and Mayfair move cautiously towards creating Neighborhood Improvement Districts; a historic gateway to West Mount Airy will rise again, thanks to the efforts of two neighborhood groups; and the PhillyHistory Blog gives us a tour of a Gilded Age Parkside mansion many of whose Gilded Age features have survived intact:

MORE MAP PORN: And Now, The Spring 2014 Property Tax Deadbeat Collection (Philadelinquency)
Mayfair and Washington Square West flirt with improvement districts (Plan Philly)
Lincoln Drive gateway project gets financial boost (Newsworks|WHYY)
Parkside Revisited (Again): A Look Inside 4230 Parkside Avenue (PhillyHistory Blog)

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 18th, 2014

Does Philly have a housing affordability problem, or doesn’t it?

1430 South Street facade rendering

New rental properties at any price point, like this one planned for the 1400 block of South Street, will help keep renting affordable if the growth in supply outpaces the growth in demand – it’s basic Econ 101.

Whatever your opinion on the subject, there’s no denying that housing affordability has become one of the Issues of the Day. We’ve long maintained (for instance, here and here) that, at least by East Coast standards, housing remains affordable overall in Philadelphia, and the problems we do have stem more from the city’s high poverty rate and the desire to maintain a mix of incomes in gentrifying neighborhoods than anything to do with the cost of housing itself.

But the welter of conflicting arguments and reports on the issue have begun to make our head spin. The latest: a report from real estate data site Zillow that states that rents in Philly may be bumping up against the threshold of unaffordability.

According to Zillow figures as reported by NBC10, a household earning the area median income will spend 28.2 percent of it on the rent on the median-priced rental property. That’s a significant jump from its historic level: from 1985 to 2000, rents ate up only 18.2 percent of the area median income.

While that 28.2 percent figure remains below the national average of 29.6 percent, it is worrisome because the rule of thumb for rentals is that rent and utilities should account for no more than 30 percent of income.

(And if that 28.2 percent makes renting in Philly almost unaffordable, then it appears we do have a nationwide housing affordability problem.)

But when one considers the lower median income in the city itself, affordable rental housing does become a matter for concern. According to numbers provided to NBC10 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $1,135. A renter would have to earn an hourly wage of $21.83 — $5 an hour more than what an average Philly renter earns, according to the NLIHC — in order to afford that apartment.

The easiest solution to the problem is the Econ 101 one: Build more rental units, period. Even an increase in the supply of expensive apartments frees up existing units for other renters, and if the increase in supply outpaces the increase in population, then rents will fall for the vacant units as landlords try to lure renters to their empty apartments.

At least in Center City and environs, builders have increasingly been doing just that, according to a recent Center City District report. A number of initiatives launched by City Council members also seek to increase the supply of affordable housing. But most of those focus on subsidizing the cost of construction. The real issue is enabling the would-be renter — or buyer — to afford what is being built, and that calls for different approaches.

Rents Unaffordable in Philadelphia: Study (

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 18th, 2014
Filed under: Articles,Philadelphia real estate

Hidden Treasure Hunt: Tacked-on history

There’s old, and then there’s “old.” As anyone who has read the many groans over Robert A.M. Stern’s design for the Museum of the American Revolution (like this one, or this one, or this one) should know, efforts to create faux-historic buildings often ring false. But at least Stern understands the architectural language, as his authentically Neo-Georgian McNeil Center for Early American Studies at Penn demonstrated. Some architects don’t even get that right, such as the one who designed the structure where we found this gimcrack recently. Where did we spot this? And if you know, can you tell us why this building is much worse than Stern’s?


Answer next week.

Photo by the author

Last week’s Hidden Treasure Hunt answer: Maybe an unscrupulous produce vendor could have passed those orbs off as durian to a buyer with very bad eyesight, but it should have been clear that those were decorative lights strung on the branches of a deceased tree in front of 222 S. Jessup St. in Washington Square West.

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 17th, 2014

New luxury townhomes coming to Rittenhouse Square fringe

2109 (right) and 2111 Market St

By the end of the year, this one-story commercial building at Walnut and Van Pelt streets on the western fringe of Rittenhouse Square should be gone, along with the buildings behind it and the parking lot next to it. In their place should be a dozen luxury townhomes.

The first step in the journey took place on April 4, when Licenses and Inspections issued zoning permits to redraw the lines for five deeded lots at four addresses in order to create 12 lots with a shared driveway easement.

The lots – two lots at 2108 Sansom Street, one at 2112-14 Sansom, one at 2109 Walnut (right in photo above), and one at 2111 (the parking lot) – will become the Van Pelt Mews townhome development.

Sign announcing Van Pelt Mews

The homes will range in size from 2,200 to 5,000 square feet and have three, four or five bedrooms, elevators, parking and rooftop gardens. As of now, nothing more about this project has been made public save that it is coming, as the already-graffitied sign and accompanying website state.

The entire block bounded by 21st, 22nd, Chestnut and Walnut streets is zoned CMX-4, which permits residential uses and governs height based on floor area ratio (FAR). As the FAR for CMX-4 is 5, with bonuses boosting the ratio to 7, whatever the developer of these homes proposes should be allowable by right.

Which means you won’t be reading about this project making its way through the Zoning Board of Adjustment steeplechase here. You will, however, learn more about its progress as we do.

Photos by the author

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 17th, 2014

Planning Commission OKs memorial garden for collapse victims at 22nd and Market

The site of the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets will become a memorial garden once the city acquires the site under legislation now before City Council. The City Planning Commission voted to endorse the bill at its April 15 meeting.

The site of the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets will become a memorial garden once the city acquires the site under legislation now before City Council. The City Planning Commission voted to endorse the bill at its April 15 meeting.

The City Planning Commission granted approval at its April 15 meeting for the city to acquire the land where the former Salvation Army thrift store once stood at 22nd and Market streets, before the tragic collapse of a neighboring building that killed six people there last June, for a memorial garden for the victims.

On June 5 last year, the adjacent wall of a four-story building being demolished collapsed onto the thrift store in the middle of the day and killed the six people, all of whom were either employees or customers of the store. The tragedy led to the passage of new demolition regulations. The Salvation Army still owns the narrow site at the corner of 22nd and Market, which is right across Ludlow Street from the Mütter Museum.

The remains of the thrift store and the neighboring buildings were removed months ago, and both the sites are now dirt lots.  Family members of the victims had started a campaign to build a memorial on the site of the thrift store shortly after the collapse occurred.

The commission voted unanimously to endorse Property Bill 140224, which authorizes the Commission of Public Property to acquire 2140 Market Street, the site’s official address.  CIty Councilman Bill Greenlee (D-at large) introduced the bill for Council President Darrell Clarke (D-5th District; western Center City and North Philadelphia) on March 27. Planning Commission staff member Marty Gregorski, who introduced the bill at the meeting, explained that another bill would be necessary to transfer the property to the Department of Parks and Recreation at a later date. The garden will be designed by a landscape architect to be chosen by a competiton. As of now, there is no money budgeted for the garden at all, not even for the design.

Commissioner Pat Eiding asked about the large lot to the east where the collapsed building sat; Gregorski said that site would be turned into a parking lot, most likely a temporary one.  It was uncertain whether any development could happen before the litigation is complete concerning that site, and there is no word about whether the lot’s owner, Richard Basciano, who is the defendant in multiple lawsuits since the collapse occurred during demolition by a contractor he hired, will sell the lot anytime soon.  When one commissioner pointed out that it was a nice thing for the site to be preserved as a memorial, Gregorski mentioned that the Salvation Army had been very helpful and cooperative in the process.

This section of Market Street is likely to see more development soon, which is one reason why Basciano was demolishing the buildings he owned in the first place.  He was hoping to sell the site to a developer for profit, but now he may have to sell the site in order to pay his legal bills and possible judgments, possibly sooner rather than later.  The lot that he owns may become the site of a large building, since Mayor Michael Nutter previously said that that site would not be a part of the memorial garden.  Building this memorial would be a step towards healing and bring some closure to such a tragedy while starting to beautify this block and intersection, therefore making further development more likely.

Photo by the author

Posted by Sandy Smith on April 17th, 2014

First-time buyer? Learn the ropes at this Saturday seminar

Philadelphia Real Estate

The road to your first home can be intimidating. Our First-Time Buyer Seminar this Saturday will help make the journey easier.

Thinking of becoming a homeowner, but intimidated by the complexities of real estate? A seminar this Saturday from the team will help you overcome your fears and buy a new home with confidence.

At PhillyLiving’s First-Time Home Buyer Seminar, to be held this Saturday, April 5, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., you will learn the ins and outs of buying a home and how you can move into your first home with as little as one percent of your own money for an upfront down payment.

“In my seven years of experience working with first time buyers, I have found that taking time to support and educate consumers helps transactions run smoothly and lays a foundation for a lifetime of real estate investment success,” said PhillyLiving CEO Noah Ostroff.

The seminar is the first in a series of Real Estate Seminars PhillyLiving will sponsor throughout 2014. Future seminars will offer advice for those looking to buy property for both personal use and investment purposes. Watch this space for news about upcoming conferences.

All seminars will be held at the Coldwell Banker Preferred Old City office at 223-25 Market Street.

A Buyer’s Market? Not In Center City

Center City Market Action Report

Homes in many Philadelphia neighborhoods are selling faster and fetching better prices than they were one year ago.

Industry buzz is that the spring selling season is off to a slow start in Philadelphia. Yet local news reports say that agents nonetheless are optimistic about how the season will turn out.

So are we. If you are thinking of selling your Greater Center City home, now is a good time to act.

While a recent Zillow report ranks Philadelphia as one of the top 10 buyer’s markets in the country, many city neighborhoods are performing far stronger for sellers. According to Philly Living’s latest Market Action Report, median sale prices in Northern Liberties in February, for instance, rose 78 percent from the same month last year, and average days on market fell 44 percent. Other local markets, including Queen Village, Bella Vista, Hawthorne and Passyunk Square, are also performing strongly.

Center City District data show that the Greater Center City area – the territory between the rivers from Girard Avenue on the north to Tasker Street on the south – continues to experience a surge in population and that housing production has boomed since 2012. While many of these new arrivals are Millennials starting out in their careers, many are looking for homes to buy as well, stimulating construction surges in neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze.

What does this mean for the home owner looking to sell? It means opportunity. With the help of an experienced Realtor (we happen to know one), a Center City homeowner can expect a positive outcome: a better sale price and a quicker sale.



Why You Should Visit Philly – Especially If You Live Here

Cheesesteaks and beer at Campo's Deli on Market Street in Old City

Yes, there are several cliches among those 31 reasons Philly’s underrated. But can you really dismiss good street food and good beer out of hand? Photo by Flickr user tylerkaraszewski, used under a Creative Commons license.

Philadelphians tend to have a love-hate relationship with their city. Surveys in the past have found that many residents would prefer living somewhere else if they had the chance.

Fortunately, this attitude is changing, especially as more new residents arrive from our of town and fall in love with the city. Many of these say the city is actually a great place to live and visit, and a growing number of writers from beyond the city now consider it an underappreciated treasure. One of them is travel writer Ellie Krupnick, who gave readers of The Huffington Post  “31 Reasons Philadelphia Is The Most Underrated City In America.”

As the HuffPo sees it, this city not only gets no respect from the people who live in it, it gets none from its coastal siblings either. New York, Washington, LA, San Francisco and Chicago all bask in glory while the City of Brotherly Love gets little of that commodity, the article says. (It does concede that “being ranked the fattest and the ugliest big city in America probably doesn’t help matters” either.)

But there’s a lot to recommend this place, from the lively and affordable BYOB dining scene at one end of the spectrum to our favorite convenience store chain, Wawa, at the other. The other 29 reasons Philly really rocks run the gamut from our signature street foods – soft pretzels and cheesesteaks – to some of our more outlandish entertainment and recreational traditions like the Naked Bike Ride and the legendary drag show at Bob & Barbara’s Lounge.

Food and drink seem to rank highly among the reasons to love this place, according to Krupnick. Besides the aforementioned BYOBs, soft pretzels, cheesesteaks and Wawa, other alimentary delights that rank highly with her include the Reading Terminal Market, the star chefs – both homegrown and imported – who have set up shop here, and lots of beer: in addition to the city’s strong craft beer scene, America’s Oldest Brewery and the Citywide Special both make her list of one thing to like for each day this month.

31 Reasons Philadelphia Is The Most Underrated City in America (The Huffington Post)

Photo by J. Varney for Visit Philadelphia

Posted by Sandy Smith on March 12th, 2014
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