Good, Bad, and Ugly: A Survey of Fishtown’s New Construction

 

Fishtown: under construction

Fishtown: under construction

In which we bring our evolution of Fishtown to the present.

This week, as 25,000 architects have descended upon Philadelphia for the AIA Convention—and our own Nathaniel Popkin chatted with ArchPaper about the challenges historic preservation faces in our “World Heritage City” (accompanied by Pete Woodall’s photos)—Hidden City has turned its attention on Fishtown.

With some 300 years to evolve, it has, like any good neighborhood, built a mélange of layers—industrial, commercial, lots of residential. Much of it was destroyed in one swoop when I-95 slashed its way along the Delaware River. This week, we’ve looked at the small handful of Fishtown buildings protected by historic designation; many others have not been protected. Others still have put new use to old bones.

This final post of the series looks at the explosion of new construction in the past ten years, almost entirely residential. With the exception of SugarHouse Casino, Fishtown hasn’t really seen any large non-residential buildings constructed in the same period (mixed-use excepted, as they have residential on top). Some of the homes are contextually sensitive and use respective materials; others very clearly get the most bang for the buck.

But there’s no accounting for taste, of course. Where Cecil Baker might see a plague of Spongebob Square Bays, others might see beautiful new members of a community.

Please note: this survey is by no means complete, just a wide representation taken from all across the neighborhood.

(All photos by Bradley Maule.)

* * *

Rag Flats, 2006

Rag Flats, 2006

1338 East Berks Street

Onion Flats’ Rag Flats project on Berks Street, completed in 2005, was both that firm’s breakout and the neighborhood’s first major residential development of the 21st Century. With new construction weaved into an old wireworks factory, it foreshadowed the changes coming to Fishtown in both adaptive reuse and new construction. It was also a good early example of sustainable building.

* * *

1300 block of Crease Street

In 2007, a one-story garage building on Crease Street at Frankford Avenue with an Irish-themed mural was demolished. By 2009, fourteen contemporary homes with garage fronts had replaced it. Across the street, two more traditional-looking rowhomes of brick with shutters, but with garage fronts, were built on the corner. And in 2014, an old three-story brick home with a side yard and side garage were demolished and replaced by four more contemporary homes with garages.

The rears of the fourteen homes face Frankford Avenue, Fishtown’s re-energized primary corridor, with a wall of stucco and juliet balconies looking out over a surface parking lot.

Same as above, seen from the main corridor

Same as above, seen from the main corridor

* * *

Changing corridor

Changing corridor

1400 block of Frankford Avenue

But Frankford Avenue got over that slight pretty quickly. Nowhere else has the pulse of change beat so rapidly as along the old King’s Highway. This view, with the circa-1892 former 10th District Patrol House (now former Bicycle Stable and future Cheu Noodle House) at left, shows the large mixed-use building going up on top of a former one-story building most recently home to a plastic bag maker, with an adjacent three-story building taking the project all the way to the Yachtsman bar at the corner of Jefferson Street.

Tidal waves of formstone and new construction

Tidal waves of formstone and new construction

* * *

1246 Frankford Avenue

In 2012, a small side garden on the corner of Frankford and Thompson was replaced by this… thing. The four-unit building has a garage on Frankford and a three-car garage in the back on Leopard Street. In the background on the right, another residential development replaced a small community garden in 2015.

* * *

1505 Frankford Avenue

Across the street from Blue Cadet and Philadelphia Record Exchange, this three-story rowhouse replaced a fenced off empty lot in 2009.

Across an empty lot just up the block, a three-story stucco square went up adjacent the old Fishtown Beverage, whose rollup grate is now adorned with “BK” mural by artist Ben Eine, presumably a shoutout to Brooklyn.

* * *

Sidewalk closed, use other side | Photo: Bradley Maule

East Montgomery profile.

1775 Frankford Avenue

These are the homes whose would-be siblings did not knock down the former East Montgomery Methodist Episcopal Church. The four duplex homes under construction would have doubled in number if the church’s demolition had gone forward, but instead, it was sold and preserved as five already-converted apartments.

* * *

1512–16 Frankford Avenue

This four-story jumble of many styles and many materials opened this year on the site of a used car dealership, retail below, residential above.

* * *

1800–06 Frankford Avenue

This photo shows four separate properties, all of which were a big grass lot as recently as 2010. Fishtown Pharmacy opened at 1802 Frankford in 2011, built concurrently to the homes on the corner. The house closest the viewer was completed in 2014. Probably a safe bet that the lot to its right will become a home soon too.

* * *

1818–22 Frankford Avenue

A little farther up the same block, the two homes on the left were built in 2013. The middle one, with the Jeld-Wen stickers on the window, will wrap up construction this year. The two on the right were built around 1870.

* * *

1862frankfordave

1862 Frankford Avenue (built 2016): how not to install utility meters.

1780 Frankford Avenue (built 2014): that’s more like it.

* * *

2000–06 Frankford Avenue

On to the 2000 block of Frankford Avenue, where Dan’s Fresh Meats and Fishtown Vapes have gotten a ton of neighbors in just the past two years. Currently under construction, “The Frankfordian” and “Frankford Stacks” will front on Frankford Avenue and Blair Street, respectively.

2026frankfordave

2026 Frankford Avenue, completed this year.

2044 Frankford Avenue

On the corner of Frankford & Susquehanna, this four-story mixed-use building was completed in 2015.

* * *

534eastgirardave_flotation

534 East Girard Avenue

Moving off of Frankford to Fishtown’s other main street, Girard Avenue. This four-story beast was built on two lots, one vacant and one with a three-story brick home that was demolished. It was completed in 2014, and the Flo•ta•tion sensory deprivation spa opened in 2015.

One block west on the other side of Girard, its twin floated in between a mid-19th Century home (since converted to ground floor retail) and a pair of homes with garages (out of frame) built in 2010.

457eastgirardave

457 East Girard Avenue

* * *

1247 East Columbia Avenue

On the corner of Columbia and Thompson, across the street from Hetzell rec field, The Ice House was built in two phases over eight years. The first, set back from Thompson Street, opened in late 2009 and incorporated the upper floors and façade of a home on Columbia, with the entrance to the complex’s garage built into the first floor. The second phase, finished in 2014 and ’15, completes the development out to Thompson and brings a second entrance over to Moyer Street.

411moyerst

* * *

Got an awesome sound. Goin' down.

Got an awesome sound. Goin’ down. | Postgreen/NKCDC photo via Awesometown’s official site

400 block of Moyer Street

Up the street from the Ice House? Awesometown. The first phase of a 14-home yes-it’s-really-called-that project by Postgreen and NKCDC is built on Moyer Street, with phase 2 coming on the Thompson Street side later. The lot where Awesometown is happening was empty for decades, contaminated from years as a knitting mill. The Awesometown (heh heh, Awesometown) project is striving for LEED Platinum.

* * *

Sneckdown without the snow

Sneckdown without the snow

1500–08 Earl Street

A tall, one-story warehouse on a wedge of land formed by Earl, Hollingsworth, and Memphis Streets was demolished and replaced by “Memphis Pointe,” a five-home project that semi-replicated the brick structure on the ground floor, with stucco above and the big blank triangle on the corner pictured above. The Brownhill & Kramer Hosiery Mill conversion stands in the background.

* * *

1126eastcolumbiaave

1126 East Columbia Avenue

What the… brick construction on the same scale as its neighbors? It does still happen! Unfortunately, a typical early 19th Century worker home was demolished in 2015, but this new two-story construction attempts to recreate the same character of home.

* * *

1206creasest

1200 block of Crease Street

This large, longtime vacant lot was filled in 2013 by seven homes with porous driveways in the front.

* * *

446belgradest

446 Belgrade Street

One of these things is not like the others. The three-story home on the right was added to a row of two-story homes just down the street from Anne’s Place corner store in 2010.

* * *

958shackamaxonst

958 Shackamaxon Street

On the river side of I-95, Shackamaxon Street is filling in with new homes despite SugarHouse’s new garage bogarting its historic views of the Delaware River. This four-story multi-unit building replaces a one-story auto body garage. Another one-story garage was demolished on the corner (950 Shackamaxon) and will be replaced by a three-story home whose construction hasn’t started yet.

* * *

327eastallenst

300 block of East Allen Street

Twenty condo units in these five buildings replace four wooden homes across from Penn Treaty Park that may date as far back as the 1790s. Allen Street is one of the oldest streets in Fishtown (historically Lower Kensington) and it survived I-95. The four homes on the 300 block did not, however, survive this latest real estate boom.

* * *

1716tulipst

1716 Tulip Street

Across Tulip Street from Memphis Flats and the A.J. Reach Lofts, a one-story storage facility was knocked down and replaced in 2011 by 10 of the more flashy homes in Fishtown. The development provides a stark contrast to the two former industrial buildings across the street.

* * *

1557 East Hewson Street

Up the block from Loco Pez on the corner of Cedar and Hewson Streets, one finds what Cecil Baker was talking about with his Spongebob Square Bays comment. Feral cats thank these home owners every time it rains. The three Spongebob houses joined four others built on Hewson Street in 2008 to fill in an empty lot with seven new homes.

Across Cedar Street, this large three-story home opened this year as a bookend to the two-story 1500 block of East Hewson.

1559easthewsonst

1559 East Hewson Street

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1401marlboroughst2

1401 Marlborough Street

The five homes here replaced the 163-year-old Pilgrim Congregational Church, demolished in early 2015, and were occupied earlier this year. The developer originally wanted more homes, but neighbors talked them down to five.

* * *

1536 East Palmer Street

This house got lost on the way to LBI and ended up on the corner of Palmer and Sepviva Streets. It faces directly out onto Palmer Park, so that’s where the builder put the garage.

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1868 Sepviva Street

The brick and metal building on the right, completed this year on the corner of Sepviva and Norris across from Rocket Cat, contrasts with the former Ampere Electric building (on the left), currently under conversion to apartments.

* * *

1832 Sepviva Street

Finally, at the end of the same block, this 2,500 square foot home on the corner of Sepviva and Berks. This luxury listing, with 10-year tax abatement, wraps up this photo essay of new construction, and subsequently Hidden City’s Fishtown Week. Thanks for coming along, and remember to tip your server.

Fishtown: The Old and the New

Fishtown: The Old and the New

* FIN *

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



17 Comments


  1. Thanks for this overview!

    To me, mostly good…1246 Frankford Avenue and 1512-16 Frankford Avenue are the worst of the bunch IMHO.

  2. I remember fishtown from late 70’s and its a different universe..i hope nobody ever complains about graffiti there because Kensington /fishtown and graf are like peanut butter and jelly… I hope the Simeon barrel company is preserved on front street

  3. Terrific piece, Thanks!

  4. Mr Bob Dobolina

    Well, this overview extensively covers the bad and ugly.

    Will the good be covered in an upcoming piece?

  5. 1512–16 Frankford Avenue….we call it ‘The Monstrosity’

  6. The gym on the 1400 block is an eyesore. Can’t wait for all the gym-bro’s to further ruin the neighborhood’s parking situation.

    1512–16 Frankford Avenue is appalling; its hideous and the downstairs spaces are unfinished disasters (except for Igloo, which is still ugly).

    Between these two properties, Frankford Ave was mostly impassable for the past several months.

  7. All the construction on Crease st is awful. Garage fronts have completely ruined this street.

  8. It’s all Kensington!

  9. I love all the new construction going on. I’ve lived in Fishtown for a while and this new construction is bringing in some really nice people wanting to raise families in an urban environment. Look at Fairmont and the Museum District they are very nice parts of the city. I’m looking forward to seeing Fishtown flourish like them. Get rid of the trash around here too.

  10. A really terrific series – thanks. “Spongebob Square Bays” may be a designer’s choice, but may also be a result of the ease with which one can draw and then stretch or truncate 3D block forms in SketchUp, the 3D software that most architects use for early design concepts. I wonder about this when I watch many young designers at work.

  11. This was fascinating. Walking or driving down a street, I might notice individual new buildings and admire something about them, but taking them in all at once was sort of painful. Shackamaxon, ow.

  12. Not a single decent building among them. How sad. Today’s architects suck, or they really hate Philadelphia neighborhoods I’m not sure which.

  13. hahahahaha: “This house got lost on the way to LBI and ended up on the corner of Palmer and Sepviva Streets.” Thank you for making my day!

  14. What a great piece! Although the garages aren’t the best to look at there is only so much space to work with. Off street parking is king in the city!

  15. Would love to know the names of some of the builders or construction companies that built these places. Any way to find out?

  16. IRENE HUBERT CONN

    THIS IS AWESOME IT IS NOT THE FISHTOWN I REMEMBER FROM THE 40’S AND 50’S SUSZIE AND FRANDFORD AVE THERE USE TO BE A PALM THEATRE. WENT THER IN THE FORTIES EVERY SATURDAY. IT COSTS A DIME, WHICH I EARNED BY SCRUBBING FRONT STEPS ON SATURDAY MORNING. REALLY ENJOYED LOOKIONG AT ALL THE CONSTRUCTION

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