Blocks We Love: 500 South 45th Street

The 500 block of South 45th Street is nestled right between Baltimore and Larchwood Avenues in the Spruce Hill neighborhood of West Philadelphia. A section of the city known for its strong record on preservation of historic architecture and tucked right around the corner from West Philadelphia’s gem, Clark Park, the initial appeal of this block is readily apparent.


Most of this neighborhood is dominated by West Philadelphia’s iconic Victorian twins, decked out in grand front porches, larger plots of land, and colorfully painted bay windows. The stretch of rowhomes covering the western side of this block of 45th street, however, are distinct in their smaller footprint and attached nature. These rowhomes are characterized by boxy, glassed-in sun rooms, each painted in it’s own vibrant color scheme.



One of the most remarkable aspects of the colorful, leafy, streetcar suburb now known as University City, which encompasses Spruce Hill, is how each home is adorned in its own unique color pattern, yet no semblance of clashing hues ensues.


This row of houses follows a consistent pattern from one end to the other of alternating sets of four. The first set consists of gabled roofs while the second set sports a sort of mock-mansard roof with a semi-circular panel in the middle. Each home has the aforementioned glassed in sun room, a third story tripartite window, and, in keeping with West Philadelphia architectural tradition, a front bay window, in this case on the second story.






This block is memorable not only for its unique and striking aesthetics, but also for its proximity to much of the burgeoning activity in University City, notably Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, the magnificent and expansive Clark Park, and countless restaurants and cafes. In fact, the block is bookended by dining options, with the lauded Marigold Kitchen on the north end and popular Milk & Honey Cafe to the south.


The mix of larger homes, lawns and porches, and ever more popular Clark Park with large universities, plenty of food and nightlife, and abundant shops and businesses presents residents with the best of both worlds – an active urban environment paired with spaciousness and greenery.


We love this block because it’s so one-of-a-kind in a neighborhood already bursting with character, and it is nestled right in the heart of so much that makes University City vibrant and distinctive.

Blocks We Love: 4000-4037 Pine Street

Just south of UPenn’s grungy frat houses sits a pleasant surprise: some of Philadelphia’s most over-the-top Victorian architecture. Indeed despite its rowdy neighbors, history and beauty are all over Spruce Hill.


The 4000 block of Pine Street in Spruce Hill is one of these true West Philadelphia gems. This particular block has been called “one of the handsomest and best preserved mid-19th century suburban streetscapes of Philadelphia”, earning the block a place on the National Historic Registry.


The fact that the block merits historic preservation is immediately obvious even to casual visitors. Compared to Center City’s flat, tightly-packed streetscape, the 4000 block of Pine has over a dozen grand Victorian homes, most sitting on green slopes above the street. The effect is both beautiful and distinctly different from most areas just across the Schuylkill.


The houses themselves are stand-outs too. From ornately carved wooden front porches to cupolas to even spooky-looking towers with mansard roofs, few blocks in Philadelphia have so much 19th century character. While a some homes could use a little TLC, most are in solid shape.


Two unusual yet beautiful Victorian front porches on the 4000 block of Pine Street.


In addition, these houses give a taste of Philadelphia’s fascinating 19th century history. As the city’s industrial wealth grew, the newly rich left the crowded, polluted spaces of Victorian-era Center City for homes like these, founding some of the nation’s first suburbs.


Comparing 19th century drawings of the 4000 block of Pine (left) to photos from today (right) shows the block’s remarkable preservation.


The preservation of the 4000 block’s historic legacy has recently become an issue however. Located on the southwest corner of 40th and Pine, the Levy-Leas House remains Spruce Hill’s earliest and largest Italianate mansions. In the 1970s though the home was badly renovated; it served as a nursing home for decades and now sits unused. In recent years multiple plans from both private developers and UPenn have called for tearing down the home and redeveloping the site itself.


While the house’s fate remains uncertain one thing is for sure: destroying the home would further alter the block historic character, and not necessarily for the better.


People ought to come and experience this amazing slice of Spruce Hill then while they still can.


Drawings courtesy of Hidden City.