Neighborhood Histories: Northern Liberties

The Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia was created by William Penn himself, only it wasn’t originally part of the city. The earlier Northern Liberties Township came from large tracts of rural land available in the area in the late 1600s. The “liberty lands” were allotted to settlers based on the size of their land purchase. Created as a less dense alternative to Center City, Northern Liberties was deemed “Philadelphia’s first suburb”. The neighborhood was officially annexed into Philadelphia in 1854.

The aptly named Liberty Lands park is a point of pride for the neighborhood.

Given its situation just outside the city’s core, it makes sense that Northern Liberties has a rich manufacturing history. Industry of all sorts flocked to the spacious tracts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The types of factories included mills, breweries, tanneries, chemical and paint works, tool manufacture, and iron and stove foundries.

A former medicine factory on Fairmount Ave. converted into apartments over the last few years with some accompanying new construction.

The 19th century settlers of the neighborhood were mostly German artisans. Later, the early 20th century brought an influx of Eastern European immigrants, namely Slovakian and Romanian. These populations are still present today in their respective churches, St. Agnes Slovak Roman Catholic Church at 4th & Brown Streets and the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church at American & Brown Streets, both of which remain active (although under a different name in the latter’s case).

The Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church (now St. John’s Church) at American & Brown Streets (above) and St. Agnes Slovak Roman Catholic Church at 4th & Brown Streets (below).

Nestled amongst the former factories and other industrial buildings, Northern Liberties also portrays some significant historic architectural styles, with many blocks of rowhomes still intact. The architectures that dominate the area are Italianate, Greek Revival, and Federal. The abundance of these blocks is at least partially due to the creation of the Northern Liberties Historic District in 1985 and the fact that many buildings have made it onto the National Register of Historic Places.

Some gorgeous twins on 5th Street with mansard roofs (above), and some rare Federal style rowhomes on Fairmount Ave (below).

It is for this reason that Northern Liberties has maintained its historic charm and character even while undergoing some drastic changes. In the past few decades the neighborhood has experienced significant development and an influx of new residents such as young professionals, students, and artists. Given the proximity to Center City – you can be downtown in under ten minutes by subway, bus, or car – the attractiveness of the neighborhood to people of all occupations makes sense. In Northern Liberties you can experience all the convenience of living close to downtown, while also having a close knit neighborhood feel, more space, and lower housing costs compared to Center City neighborhoods such as Rittenhouse Square, Fitler Square, and Society Hill.

As a result of the large swaths of land left open by de-industrialization in the mid- to late-1900s, redevelopment of the neighborhood was able to happen with exceptional vigor. While Northern Liberties does have plenty of historic rowhome architecture, the collection of styles has always been more eclectic than, say, the uniform rows of homes in South Philadelphia neighborhoods. Since the landscape was already quirky and diverse, the new construction, often hulking in some areas, meshes better here.

The eclectic nature of Northern Liberties architectural styles (above and below).

Today Northern Liberties has an exciting array of housing types, with the grand, old three story rowhomes still intact amongst new construction condos and townhomes. There is also a bustling commercial corridor to be found along 2nd Street where new restaurants, coffee shops, and stores are popping up everyday. The neighborhood still maintains its distinctive character and intimate feel, despite its booming growth and inflow of new residents.

Philadelphia Phases In The New With These Big Developments

Taking a step away from some of the major new developments gathering buzz around Center City – the monumental new skyscraper for the Comcast Tower and the contested Toll Brother’s plans for Jewelers’ Row are a few that come to mind – we decided to take a look at some other notable projects shaping our neighborhoods.


Rendering for the new Yards Brewery at 5th & Spring Garden. Courtesy of Digsau.


  • Yards Brewery

Taking up a new home in the former Destination Maternity building at 5th & Spring Garden, Yards Brewing Company has a whole lot of space to fill in the whopping 70,000 square foot structure. Luckily the team behind Yards and collaborators at Digsau, a Philadelphia based urban design and architecture firm, are up to the talk. A $19 million dollar affair, this inspiring project includes a beer garden, large scale brewing facility, a tasting room sporting a full food menu as well, and potential space for other businesses. According to recent announcements there are plans for a Target to open in this space as well. With so many big box buildings with little commercial activity, this Yards facility could be just what is needed to attract more pedestrian activity along this stretch of Spring Garden Street.




The lot at the NW corner of Broad & Washington that Lincoln square will fill. 


  • Lincoln Square

Brought to the city by MIS Capital LLC and Alterra Property Group, this 3.4 acre, full city block development at Washington Ave & Broad Street is focused on mixed-use. Plans for the project include 322 apartment units, 100,000 square feet of retail space, including a grocery store, and 400 parking spaces. Visually, the building will have an 8-story apartment tower with two stories of retail below. Construction is scheduled to start this year, with completion set for late 2018. One notable feature of the project is the 1876 train depot included on the site which the developers plan to restore and most likely use for retail.


  • 1220 Frankford Ave Hotel

Brought to Fishtown by Roland Kassis’ Domani Developers Inc, of Frankford Hall, La Colombe, and, most recently, City Fitness fame this project might be the developer’s most ambitious undertaking yet. Kassis is working with architect Morris Adjmi to create a 114 room hotel, something previously unheard of in the neighborhood. Plans for this six-story hotel include a rooftop pool, skyline views, room prices ranging from $80-200 a night, a handful of restaurants, and office space. While WM Mulherin’s Sons at Front & Master Streets claimed the prize for the first hotel in Fishtown, 1220 Frankford Ave will achieve something of an even larger scale.



  • Fishtown Village, Suite Row, and Avenue 30

A number of plans for big housing developments in the Fishtown and Kensington neighborhoods are popping up boasting their status at gated communities. Marlborough Development LLC brings Fishtown Village at Marlborough & Wildey Streets, while further north in East Kensington a collaboration between United Makers and Philly Home Girls, Suite Row, is underway at Cumberland & Jasper Streets. Lastly, Riverwards Group & KJO Architects have recently broken ground on their own large gated townhouse community on the 2600 blocks of both Amber and Collins Streets. Starting prices for these homes range from $339-700,000.


Two renderings for the Reading Viaduct Rail Park: The access staircase at 13th & Noble (top) and one example of the seating and design (bottom). Courtesy of Studio Bryan Hanes.



  • Reading Viaduct Rail Park

Demolition is underway, with 80% completed, and on track for development at the highly anticipated Reading Viaduct Rail Park. Taking inspiration, and lessons, from New York City’s Highline project, this reuse and remodeling of a formerly abandoned viaduct rail will present a boon to the surrounding community. So far workers on the project have mostly been dealing with remediating soil, making sure the site is clean and safe for planting, and restoring stone walls in collaboration with Studio Bryan Hanes. The next stage will focus on building foundations for the access stairway that will be at 13th & Noble Street, repairing any damage to bridges and doing important waterproofing, installing metal railings along the edges for safety, and doing the first phase of planting and painting.


Construction is well under way at East Market.


  • The Gallery & East Market

In addition the much discussed total renovation at the Gallery on East Market Street, just down the street is another large scale development. While this is still part of Center City, the promise this project holds for this specific enclave of downtown is significant. East Market is springing up on the entire block between Market, Chestnut, 11th, and 12th Streets. The project consists of three buildings – two residential towers with retail on the ground level and office space at Family Court Building which is also being renovated. One residential tower, the Ludlow, designed by BLT Architects is geared more towards millennials with a younger vibe and smaller units, while the other, a collaboration between Morris Adjmi and BLT Architects will target more established professionals and families. One special feature here is the pedestrian-only street that will cut through the middle of the block, connecting Market & Chestnut. This project checks off most of the design and planning boxes with its focus on mixed-use development, pedestrian accessibility, and underground parking.


Check back in the upcoming weeks for more information about how Solo Realty is getting involved in Philadelphia’s new construction boom with our own project – Kensington Yards. We are really excited about this development and look forward to giving some updates about its progress and more features on our various collaborators.


Featured image via Map data ©2017 Google.

Blocks We Love: 700 North Bodine

Tucked away amongst the bustling commercial corridors, looming new condos, and new construction in progress on just about every street, one could easily miss the 700 block of North Bodine Street, an iconic mainstay of historic Northern Liberties.


Originally known as Brook Street, this narrow, secondary street was built upon a former streambed. During a period of expansion in the early 1800s, many streams were filled in to allow for more development in the area.


Today, while much of the formerly vacant land in Northern Liberties explodes into large, stylistically divergent new construction houses and condo buildings, Bodine Street harkens back to the style of 18th and 19th century Philadelphia.



Comparable to Old City’s famous Elfreth’s Alley, Bodine Street contains, in its short stretch, all of the charm that one associates with historic Philadelphia: classic narrow, three story homes with star bolts and anchor plates, colorful shutters, intact cornices, flags, and flower boxes. There is even a converted carriage house on the block, done up in a delightful pale yellow paint.


Bookending the block on the north end is an early 19th century neoclassical church, built by the architect William Strickland in 1815. Strickland, while not a Philadelphia native, is largely remembered for his numerous projects across the city. The church was originally built as St. John’s Episcopal, but, when the early 20th century saw high numbers of Romanian immigrants flocking to the neighborhood, the church split to serve two congregations.


Eventually, the Romanian cohort assumed full responsibility of the church, and in 1972 it became the Holy Trinity Roman Orthodox Church. This changeover is emblematic of how historic architecture can adapt and continue to serve changing neighborhoods and changing times in Philadelphia.


Rounding out the southern end of the block is another staple of the city’s past – a pedestrian-only residential court. Landing between Bodine and Third Streets, this off-road court consists of a series of trinity style homes.



If any block contains the imagery of historic Philadelphia most completely, it just might be this one. While one among many in a maze of tiny side streets and alleyways passing through the city’s larger blocks, we think Bodine Street really packs a punch when it comes to this city’s renowned architectural detail.  



Purchasing Power Goes Further in Philly

What can $1 million buy you in Philly? A lovingly updated, historically preserved, 6,000 square foot mansion in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the City. What can that buy you in other cities? Well, you’ll have to keep reading to find out, but, spoiler alert: Philly wins this one hands down.


A pending sale in Philly caught our eye recently. At $999,900, 999 North 6th Street offers 6,800 square feet of ornate original detailing and modern amenities.


Included in the sale is a carriage house with 3-car parking below a 2-bedroom apartment and an additional property behind the main house.


999 North 6th Street is a classic Philadelphia mansion recently listed for sale for $1 million


It probably comes as no surprise that a property that is simultaneously a historical, classic style mansion and updated with desirable modern amenities is hard to come by at that price elsewhere.


In New York City $1 million will buy you, for example, a 750 square foot apartment on the Upper West Side, or a 1,300 square foot condo in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn.


$1 million will buy you this 750 square foot apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan


For a property comparable in size and historical style in New York City, you are looking at a bill of at least $16,000,000.


In Chicago’s Lincoln Park, for the exact price of 999 North 6th Street, you could purchase a 4,350 square foot, 4-bed and 3.5-bath, new construction.


In Chicago, this new construction is going for $1 million


These properties don’t quite compare to 999 North 6th Street, with 8-bedrooms and 4-baths, a wine cellar, cupola room with a stained glass skylight, custom-made walls in wood and Lincrusta throughout, multiple working fireplaces, beautifully updated chef’s kitchen, and private garden.


Updated chef’s kitchen (left), and “office” room (right) featuring one of the many fireplaces in the $1 million Philly mansion


Put in context of the property being situated in Northern Liberties, one of Philadelphia’s trendiest neighborhoods, Philly is the place you will get the most for your budget.


Getting more for less in Philly doesn’t come at the expense of your surroundings and opportunities either. The Greater Philadelphia Area, if it was its own country, would have the31st largest GDP in the world—larger than that of France. So skip the Parisian chateau and see how your money will get you a whole lot more than just Brotherly Love in Philly.


Images of 999 North 6th Street courtesy of Philadelphia Magazine, Manhattan apartment image courtesy of amNew York, and Chicago new construction images courtesy of Zillow.

Does Philadelphia Have a Williamsburg?

Gawker, a popular New York-based blog, recently stirred up controversy in Philly by declaring which neighborhoods in our city are equivalent to the NYC hipster havens Williamsburg and Bushwick. But does an exercise like this do more harm than good?


Let’s start by saying that placing one neighborhood into the context of another is a natural way to build a frame of reference in an unfamiliar place. We should also note that Gawker did not make these selections on their own, rather doing so by polling their readers and making similar comparisons between other U.S. cities and the Big Apple.


But given Philadelphia and New York’s close, complex and sometimes fraught relationship, making public comparisons like this has far more implications than Gawker might have thought.


Yes, some communities in our cities feel very similar: Rittenhouse Square’s brownstones are almost identical to those in Brooklyn Heights or the West Village. Other areas though, like Society Hill, have no equivalent as Philadelphia has preserved its colonial architecture in a way that New York has not.


The Gawker readers then who selected Northern Liberties to represent gentrified Williamsburg and Kensington to represent grittier, post-industrial Bushwick weren’t incorrect, but they were playing into an unproductive game of NYC navel-gazing.


For one thing, although New York City certainly plays an incredibly important role in urbanism, its neighborhoods are not the end-all-be-all of American cities: Northern Liberties and Kensington have their own stories to tell too.


Indeed, life in a city is so much richer than living in a cookie-cutter suburb precisely because each neighborhood has its own unique structure and culture. Thus, we do a disservice to all cities (even the Big Apple) when we try to force non-New York communities to ignore what makes them special and define themselves in New York terms.


Of course, this diversity is especially important when it comes to the relationship between Philadelphia and New York. As New Yorkers come to Philadelphia for our top-tier universities and low cost of living, so too do Philadelphians go to New York to shop and do business. That give and take, separated by a mere 90 miles, positively impacts both cities in too many ways to count. In the end then, we are likely better off focusing on the benefits of our differences rather than trying to make Philly and New York the same.