Blocks We Love: 800-916 South 47th Street

There’s no confusing West Philadelphia with any other part of our city’s urban core. And with brightly painted homes, leafy streets and a dizzying diversity of residents, few neighborhoods are as colorful – literally and figuratively – as this fascinating community.

 

While West Philadelphia has many different neighborhoods, few are as heterogenous or as popular as Cedar Park, the area directly southwest of booming University City. Baltimore Avenue, Cedar Park’s main corridor, drives this development, as its mix of shops, caf├ęs and services attracts a unique group of funky young professionals, African Americans and immigrant communities. Just off this strip you’ll find the wonderful 800-916 block of South 47th Street, whose collection of mixed-use buildings typifies the diversity, and eye-catching aesthetics, of this popular West Philadelphia neighborhood.

 

Since the 1850s, the growth and success of Cedar Park, and indeed much of West Philadelphia, has depended on the area’s trolley network. About a century ago wealthy Philadelphians began using these trolleys to create the nation’s first suburbs, building large Victorian and Queen Anne style homes in the greenery and space outside Center City. Although the neighborhood suffered a serious economic and social decline for much of the latter half of the 20th century, this grand architecture and extensive public transportation network has laid the foundation for the area’s contemporary redevelopment.

 

Residents using Cedar Park’s trolley lines (left). The nearby yellow domed St. Francis de Sales Church (left) is an important, and striking, local institution as well.

 

Indeed, up and down the 800-916 block of South 47th Street, one can see how this physical heritage shapes the area’s modern fortunes. Fresh coats of blue, pink and green paint bring out the fine detailing on the block’s Victorian homes, while commercial spaces near the trolley now host popular restaurants. And although this part of South 47th Street does have a few decidedly downscale shops, closer examination shows that the block’s bodega has adapted to the neighborhood’s influx of crunchy young people, selling organic Castile soaps along side the Doritos. This quirky mix buzzes below the brightly painted dome of the Saint Francis De Sales Catholic Church, whose hall often plays host to community events and gatherings.

 

The 800-916 block of South 47th Street really shows the best of Cedar Park, and serves a strong example for how a neighborhood’s historic infrastructure can meet the demands of a modern community. It’s enough to make other Philadelphians wish they could have a bright blue home here, too.