Lower North Philadelphia Views, 76-100+

Xmas day restaurant

There were a literal dozen Chinese takeout restaurants in a one-half mile radius from where I lived. For the uninitiated, these shotgun restaurants comprise a small foyer with a cashier, small grocery, and kitchen, behind bullet proof glass.



Pontiac excitement

This Grand Prix is a rare neighborhood specimen of a classic car surviving the streets.





There is an unforgivable amount of trash on the streets. It accumulates where it is first trapped by grass or other obstacles. An abandoned building in the background is one of many exemplary brick carriage houses commonly found in the north side.





Pay phone box on a extinct gas station lot still hosting advertisements. This block is the site of several particularly noteworthy small warehouse rehabilitation and new construction projects, some complete, others underway, and on the drawing board.




All Stars

Broken glass, ditched sneakers, and piles of leaves. Things just get left as they lay.




Morning Light

These six vacant lots are a playground, parking lot, stray animal refuge, and dump. A new construction and lot for sale hold promise for change: improvement potential.




Better is yet to come

Investor found. A few consecutive blocks along this street have sizable buildings left vacant and deteriorating but drawing attention for rehabilitation.





Tagged for ownership. Abandoned, kind of, this building is in use, despite attempts to keep it off limits.




At the museum

A mile west, toward the Schuylkill River, a collection of museums and the surrounding neighborhood stand in stark contrast to the Lower North.




Signs & Tags





Available for use across Philadelphia, local access rental bikes are usually pretty well used.




Wrought iron fence

New but replicating some of the older iron work in the neighborhood, this gate closes off a childcare playground serving the community.





The impact of Temple University’s growth, and management of student housing, cannot be overstated. It has fueled a high density of new buildings and renovations, block by block in most blighted areas, spreading west and south toward Ridge.





Stop-and-go is a common feature of construction, particularly for small scale projects. This building remained as is for several months.




Moderne Farrah School

One of the roughly 10% of area schools sold in the past five years. This one is now an apartment building for entry level professionals.




Door art

This entry way was preemptively painted and surprisingly was an effective deterrent against additional tagging.





A major rehabilitation of this nearly block-size (local) icon. A long view of its history reveals that it has been a white elephant, almost since its inception. In the current economic optimism, it is being given another chance.





Dismal, perhaps, but only a few doors down in either direction are $1M homes and condominiums. Vacant, and deteriorating, it is owned by a non-resident with local business interests, since the mid 1990s.




Moderne design

Neighborhood elementary school, still in use, built in the early 20th century, when the city and neighborhood were growing, 10-20% between each decennial census.




Store front

This storefront is in a more dilapidated section within an already run down area along Ridge. Outright public investment – not just tax abatement – is impending and may help spur private development.




Bell Telephone adaptive reuse

Vacant for decades, this building was converted into entry-level condominiums, occupied by mostly young, white professionals, oriented toward the Fairmont neighborhood.




Doorways, too

Results of reinvestment in single-family and multi-unit dwellings, between Ridge and Fairmont. A stark contrast to large swaths of housing between Girard and Cecil B Moore.




Boarding School

Occupying more than square quarter mile, largely separated from its surroundings by a 10-foot high rock, this bit of fence allows views in to the Girard College. Funded in perpetuity by an endowment, the “college” is a preparatory school for “academically capable students.”




Nikes & narrow lane

Hundreds of streets like this one, only a block long, with row homes end-to-end. This one, one-third boarded up and/or without roofs, a third occupied, and a third now under renovation – potentially, affordable, two-story, single-family homes.




Local retail

One of the few retail and service shops in area, the bike shop keeps busy provisioning coffee &c, on the side.




New units and tag

Electric meter boxes like this are a new multi-unit badge, you can walk down some blocks and count off by threes, into the 30s. Tags enable a sort of dendrochronology.




In process

This multi-unit building – a 20+ units, as opposed to three, six, or nine, is one of about a dozen filling in vacant lots just off of Girard, in areas lacking any kind of neighborhood sensibilities.




Leaving Philadelphia behind for opportunities elsewhere, I must admit to being rather smitten with its rougher edges and beauty.



Lower North Philadelphia Views, 51-75

This is the third of four posts, presenting another 25 pictures of North Philadelphia captured while walking Katie dog.


Due to the noticeable absence of trees – some blocks with none – fall passed almost imperceptibly into winter.  The Street Trees program aims to green the city with its free trees program.



Places evolve under multiple forces and as sums of their parts. This back alley canvas is one among many on a block that is quickly redeveloping to meet market demands.


Store front

Looking back from a future point in time, Ridge Ave will have transformed between 2015 – 2025. Until then, there is this, here and there. The contrasts between derelict and new are remarkable.



The restoration of the Divine Lorraine hotel carries forward an historic landmark into an uncertain but – more than likely – vibrant future. There is no shortage of Blumenfeld vision and Procida capital.


Philly Mural Arts

Since 1986, the program has produced a stupendous collection of art pieces.  Here, Celebrate Poetry enlivens a dead space between two hibernating buildings. Check out this map of murals that populate every nook and cranny of the city.


Autumnal Evening

Open for all as long as light and weather permits, tax dollars for civic infrastructure provide the universally appreciated and egalitarian city spaces. A city of brotherly love vibe, absolutely.


Stylin Chrysler

Cars are pride points, in this neighborhood is no exception.



Part way removed, a clean up and change of use are underway.  The Pyramid Temple #1, a civic organization, continues to hold an annual ball in support of its charity mission.


Open Door

Previously noted, houses of worship are omnipresent. Holy Temple Church’s door is open late, serving the diverse needs and preferences of the community.


Community Garden

Just south of Fairmont, the neighborhood home prices are higher than north of Girard, by a factor of three. Instead of vacant lots, there are amenities, like the remarkable Spring Gardens community garden.



Right center, the private Gesu School is “a national model for inner-city education” in a community that benefits greatly from its work.



About a mile south, Penn Center Suburban Station provides a transit hub for subway, trolley, and train lines. It is a stupendous example of art deco architecture, as well.


New Mags

Representative of gloss over substance or, conversely, the suitability of old things made to last. This classic, sanded down to the metal, sports a new set of wheels.


Civic Architecture

Formerly the Berean Institute, founded to provide professional training programs that were not available to blacks, it is now the Philadelphia Technical Training Institute, which is doing much the same thing, more than a 100 years later. Check out this long and windy history of the Berean Institute.



One stage in the redevelopment process. Very close to Girard, on Ridge, this is the first of the many on this block that could turn things around.


One block off broad

Once part of the rattle and hum of Philadelphia, this area’s pulse is barely perceptible. Zuzu’s Kitchen and Lorraine, with its solid neighborhood grit and great outdoor seating, are among the few restaurants and bars scattered about and drawing traffic.


School View

Monday through Friday, the streets are flooded with students in parochial school outfits. Students from Jersey and outlying areas bus or drive in to St. Joe’s Prep, completely incongruent with what surrounds it.


City Housing

This Project HOME site in a vital resource for addressing poverty and homelessness in this North Philadelphia neighborhood.


Opening Hour

Established in 1956, likely the zenith of the neighborhood’s 20th century development, Yellow Front remains as a solid step up from the average corner store. Not a great place to get your perishables, it has a voluminous stock of hot sauce and good selection of rices.



Top of the list of places I like to avoid, laundromats are the most common business after bodegas, barber shops, Chinese takeout, and bars. This place ranks.


Dog Park

Reflecting the amenity demands of more recent arrivals, this slice of land has been claimed by neighborhood dog owners as a leash-free park.


No parking

Lew Blum, free signs for service, is one of a couple shake-down outfits – more successful than the PD – keeping car owners from wreaking havoc on the streets and off. One fun to read story, among many (image captured using a Nikon D90).


Tree & Scaffold

Building sides are clean canvases for crisp shadows. Here, a dense cluster of new construction 3 per unit condominiums.


Barber Shop

Another neighborhood essential, the barber shop. Bill’s is looking for a suitor for this narrow corner building. A short block off Ridge, across from a park, it is a good buy.


School Doors

Many of the early 20th century public school buildings have been sold and converted to other uses. The Helen Fleisher Vocation School, now the Parkway Center City college prep school, built in the Academic Gothic style, remains in the public school system.


Lower North Philadelphia Views, 26-50

This post is the second of four presenting 25 pictures (mostly) captured in North Philadelphia while walking my dog. Diverging from the first set – http://bit.ly/2nHpOC0 – these are mostly black and white.


Plenty of cyclists in lower north but not so many protected lanes. Here, in Northern Liberties, efforts to protect cyclists more common.

Afternoon light

Broad Street is wide and bright on sunny days. A few remaining 19th century buildings, like this one with its wrought iron railing.


This backside view of a popular newer constructions design that is prevalent in the area between Fairmont and Girard avenues. This one visible between two Girard Ave brownstones.


Established in the 1970s, Charlie’s Tire Service is one of the only functional neighborhood businesses besides bodegas. He is intermittently busy, fixing flats.


More layers, window coverings, windows, stickers, and tags. As deserving of a glance as pieces in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Urban triptych

Disappointed to have missed Raphstravaganza but delighted to catch its promotional art pasted onto Licenses and Inspections paperwork at a Broad Street construction site. A “kinetic cirque experience” http://bit.ly/2mEJFRr. Art work by http://bit.ly/2mEV4k4.

Urban rehabilitation

Upgrades underway, the Terminal Commerce Building is a stellar Art Deco building and adaptive reuse project – now a 1.3M ft2 telecom carrier hotel.http://bit.ly/2mUOqJ8.

New construction

More than 60 new buildings in one two-block radius along Ridge Street, which may soon have more new buildings than old along the Broad to Girard stretch. Some people are making a lot of money in this section of town –http://bit.ly/2mUPz3u.


While some views are less than inspiring, they are integral to the neighborhood aesthetic, and offer a canvas for taggers and other artists – old but relevant post – http://bit.ly/2nayAqS.

Soon to be demolished

Vacant lots, tags, and opportunistic trees, change is constant on multiple timescales. Like many of these pictures, this place no longer exists.


A reflection of demographic change. That there are nets is remarkable. 25% of the Philadelphia population was 18 and younger in 1980 and dropped to 21% in 2015 (US Census).

Row homes

Few things are more Philadelphia than its classic row houses. A visual aesthetic that draws the gaze toward infinity http://bit.ly/2mEAHnr.

Pocket park

A small retreat from overgrown and garbage-filled lots. Someone cleared out over 50 large garbage bags of brush to make it as inviting as seen here. There are a handful of programs in place to clean vacant lots – http://bit.ly/2naRFJf.

Corner store

Bodegas are ubiquitous across the lower north. An enterprising company must have sold signage to almost all of them all at the same time; the signage does not vary much from one store to the next.

Morning transit

A route begun in 1859, paused between 1992 and 2005, Septa route 15 runs cross-town on Girard Avenue. Transporting 3.4M riders annually in 2016, expenses exceed revenue by 66% (Septa).

Sidewalk art

This stencil appeared one day; it frames a view of a vacant lot, Broad Street, and the famous Progress Plaza http://bit.ly/2mENwOA.

Awnings, color

The row house aesthetic with units individualized by improvements like these acrylic awnings. Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of businesses installing and repairing these cherished solar shades.


Q: What would a lower north neighborhood be without a cafe?
A: Not predominantly white.
Boundary neighborhoods have several edgy little cafes catering to more recent arrivals. Very interesting quant work done by Jonathan Tannen – http://bit.ly/2naOCkw. This phenomenon is as old as human settlement – see “cultural border” concept in David Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel and Language.


The volume and substance of trash left on the streets is disturbing – everything from the oversized cathode ray tube televisions and other electronics to cafeteria sized food trays and soda bottles, to baby seat and toys. It is no wonder Philly takes top honors for rat issues –http://cbsloc.al/2iBuKtc!

Coffee shop

Right in the thick of new development on Ridge, this place puts out a great crepe or bagel breakfast and sells lot of coffee to students and the construction crews rebuilding the neighborhood.


On Girard Ave, a stretch of under-utilized mixed-use buildings, many with wrought iron security pieces, grand doorways, and other unique features.

Skinny new house

Filling in the built landscape, some new constructions are an old standard, 15′ wide.



Sunday church

You cannot spit without hitting a church. They take every shape and form from warehouse, like this one, to the Greek revival and more traditional. Many are simply houses, dilapidated and indistinguishable from any other building aside from a cross in the doorway or side mounted signs.

Below grade tag

Another site that no longer exists, the artist’s work is all over the north side. In the background a Robert Indiana inspired LOVE painting on an adaptive reuse project – apartments in what was formerly a trolley repair station – http://bit.ly/2naOgu9.

Civic duty

On Election Day, I voted across the street at a church. It was not a busy location. In more mixed neighborhoods, just south, lines were long.

Vacant lot

That there is open space in a city is not at all a bad thing. There is a varied aesthetic and the play of light – color, shadow, etc – at dawn and dusk is entrancing.

Lower North Philadelphia Views, 1-25

While the cover image is of historic Philadelphia, this post represents the first quarter of 100 pictures (mostly) captured in North Philadelphia while walking my dog. Using a cell phone camera – a Motorola Droid Mini 10 MP – these pictures were initially posted on Instagram between August 2016 and February 2017. The chronological ordering has been preserved. The principal theme is land use but many images are representative of change in hyper-local demographics and the flow of capital. If pictures inspire curiosity about the neighborhood, Philadelphia, or anything else, please leave your comments and questions.


Moving from upstate NY to north Philadelphia, the differences in the environmental aesthetic are vast. Graffiti and dilapidated buildings abound, lower north Philadelphia – “one of the most impoverished areas in the nation”  is exceptional – http://nyti.ms/2nT6MYJ.


Neighborhood block party

The first weekend in Philadephia, the road was closed off for a day of food, prodigious drinking, and entertainment for kids. These kids will live shorter lives than the average well off white Philadelphian  by nearly 20 years – http://bit.ly/2nT9VHW. Downtown Philly looms in the distance.


Old and new

Remnants of yesterday’s commerce, tomorrow is still undefined along many sections of Ridge Avenue. Check out http://bit.ly/2iBGD2D for a tour of other old signs, in addition to Gilbert’s Shoes #gilbertsshoes. Ridge Avenue, a crooked path through Philadelphia to outlying areas was a Leni Lenape trail, before white settlement – http://bit.ly/2nSTwn8.


One man’s junk

Street side garbage, picked up “free of charge”, leads to places like this, a spot filled weekly with the contents of houses thrown off from pickup trucks. A mayoral cabinet has been appointed to address some of these ills http://bit.ly/2iBvxKQ.


Crime in the neighborhood

Lots of property crime, consistently, and, now and again, assaults (including sexual) and murder. I constantly view the area crime map – http://bit.ly/2iBJCb6.



The Wissahickon flows into the Schuylkill, 1,800 acres are under conservation, providing 1.1M annual visitors a place to hike, walk, run, bike, etc., within proximity of – and accessible off-road from – Philadelphia city center – http://vstphl.ly/2iBIi8a.


Neighborhood brew pub

About 10 blocks south, Fairmont St presents a different vibe, with Bar Hygge #barhygge a western bookend. one year young, food rates well and its beers brewed on premise beer http://bit.ly/2nG2zaS.


Church was bank

Northwestern national bank stands as a memorial to “the importance of North Philadelpia as it developed” in the late 1800s, home to Smith Chapel Baptist Church since 1969. Here is one rant of an architectural review – http://bit.ly/2nGhP7H.


Park, sans swings

One of the city’s 150 neighborhood parks or squares getting minimal use. Not without controversy, a massive investment in its park system is underway – http://bit.ly/2nT03Os.


Open sky

Number of buildings slated for demolition number of buildings abandoned. A good deal of change is underway. While not meeting established definitions of “gentrification”, development underway is transformative  – http://bit.ly/2nT1UCS.


Evening dog walk

The Market St skyline is ever-present and ever-changing. Coverage on the tall buildings – http://bit.ly/2nGIroK.


Arguments as frequent as the shots, Sunday

Basketball court is often full-up at Francisville Park #francisvilleplayground – a neighborhood oasis filled with the arguments on the court, the repetitious squeak of swings, and children’s delight – http://bit.ly/2nGxCmT.


Haiku, a brett powered american sour ale, redundant

Revisiting Bar Hygge to work though its drink-worthy selection of mostly lightly hopped beers. Beer Advocate confirms some of my opinions – http://bit.ly/2nGle6b.


Kitty corner car

No longer a registered business, the bay door is often open and classic cars in various states of (dis)repair line the sidewalk. A relic “business” in a changing neighborhood.


Tax dollars at work

Rough as the roadways can be, maintenance is constant. this pothole was dug out by backhoe one day, three-quarter filled with cement another, and topped with asphalt on another.


Ubiquitous scaffold

The rate of growth after 50-years of steady decline is still low but areas of this neighborhood, fueled by demand by Temple University students, are experiencing stunning block-at-a-time redevelopment projects.  A 20% increase in permits in 2016, and a bordering neighborhood experiencing some of the highest rates of growth, construction sites are on every block –  http://bit.ly/2nSRRxV



With a sale price under $50,000, this little single unit was picked up for renovation. It is now available for rent or fully occupied following work that included rebuilding the front wall, ground up. Insight into who is moving where – – http://bit.ly/2nSZXXk.


Morning walk

On weekdays, the trolley, school buses, and auto traffic fill Girard flush but weekends traffic can be sparse. One pedestrian on an amble, taking advantage.


Door way

Alongside the Smith Baptist Chapel is an intact block of stately homes. While a lot of the original stained glass and woodwork is gone, including the doors, many architectural features and embellishments remain. Mansions or multifamily dwellings, these lovelies are being condominiumized and tripling in value.



There are many layers and textures, some real, others reflected or projected. On hiatus, this new construction features wood, brick, metal, etc.


Historic neighborhood

Gryphons look over entrance to Eastern State Penitentiary #easternstate. A significant site and top draw for tourists, it’s also an anchor for the small commercial district on Fairmont  http://vstphl.ly/2mUHJXD.


Mixed media

An aggregation and dissolution of materials over time and proprietary tagging fits well the aviary superscript. Secondary note: #gilbersshoes.


Bike lane

While the city rates highly – #4 in the country – when it comes to bike lanes, it does not mean they are safe or bike friendly. Double parking is a plague –  http://bit.ly/2mUQu43.



Lower north Philly is rhythm and verse; this poet gave domestic abuse, poverty, and parental love a thought-provoking spin. Secondary note: #gilbersshoes.


Low fidelity

Downtown is beyond neighborhood boundaries but is only a ten-minute trip straight down 17th St. The crisp reflection of the many glass buildings does little to brighten the view. Comcast’s newest addition, under construction – http://bit.ly/2mULL20.