Francisville, as anyone who has been there knows, is a very confusing neighborhood. It lies west of Broad between Fairmount and Girard Avenues in lower North Philadelphia.
The streets intersect at 30 and 60 degree angles, creating numerous six point intersections and leading people in confusing directions. One must often look for the city skyline, south, to regain their sense of direction! The reason for this awkward street layout is because Francisville, once the site of a vineyard, is North Philadelphia’s oldest neighborhood, and the streets were originally laid out to be parallel and perpendicular to Ridge Avenue, which runs through the middle of the neighborhood heading towards the northwest. The city’s Center City street grid was later extended north, creating a hodge podge of blocks that each feel like their own mini-neighborhood.
The neighborhood, as a result, feels extremely unique. It has a very old-fashioned feel with some of the oldest buildings and sidewalks in the city. Home prices range from below $100,000 to just below $300,000. Historically a working class community for those working in nearby factories, Francisville had become rather worn in recent decades. But one walk through the neighborhood today shows it is clearly revitalizing with a mix of affordable housing and upscale market-rate housing. It is not as well known as other lower North Philly communities, probably because it’s main shopping street, Ridge Avenue, has seen little recent change and has few businesses. However, there are many residential developments changing the area, and that will likely spill over onto Ridge, which will bring more attention to Francisville.
One series of developments is affordable housing adjacent to (and mostly west of) Ridge consisting of twins and townhouses built about ten years ago. That was followed by market rate developments, such as townhouses on Cambridge Street (just below Girard) and The Exchange, a residential reuse of an old commercial building on 16th Street. Two new developments that will break ground soon include the Vineyards, being developed by the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation and developer Anthony B. Miles, that will include 60 condo units and a market place on Ridge designed to resemble a small Reading Terminal Market, as well as an upscale, market-rate residential development, being developed by The Hankin Group at 19th & Wylie Streets (west of Ridge), that will consist of several dozen upscale townhouses and a five story apartment building. I’ll have more to say about those developments in the future.
The most transformative developments, I believe, are the ones pictured above and below at the intersection of 15th & Poplar Streets. This intersection is about a mile from City Hall and a half mile from the edge of Temple University’s campus. Over the years, I’ve wandered through this particular area which, except for some criminal activity, had become a virtual ghost town of empty lots, abandoned buildings, and a junkyard. The developments you see include Francisville East, an affordable development of 16 townhouses and 27 senior apartments being developed by not-for-profit Community Ventures and designed by KSK Architects, and several renovated apartment buildings that were almost all abandoned a couple of years ago. Francisville East will include a courtyard and parking. The townhouses have a traditional design and the three storey apartment building is being designed in a post modern theme with bay windows jutting out at skewed angles. As if that isn’t enough, several modern, upscale market-rate apartment buildings are being built around the corner on 15th Street. The effect of all these developments is to completely transform this strategic intersection from a blighted deterrent for visitors into a beautiful showplace that will tie together the surrounding areas.
These developments, along with cultural developments in the neighborhood such as the Performance Garage, and the eventual revitalization of Ridge Avenue, will make the oddly designed Francisville neighborhood one of the most unique communities in the city!