- West Philadelphia
West Philadelphia is a section of the
City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Though there is no official definition of its boundaries, West Philly is generally considered to reach from the western shore of the Schuylkill River, to City Line Avenue to the northwest, Cobbs Creekto the southwest, and the SEPTAR3 Media-Elwyn line to the south.
An alternate definition includes all city land west of the Schuylkill; this would also include
Southwest Philadelphiaand its neighborhoods.
The topography of West Philadelphia is composed of rolling hills rising slowly from the
Schuylkill Rivertoward Cobbs Creekin the West and toward Belmont Plateauin the Northwest. Because of this gradual elevation, the skyline of Center City can be seen from almost any point in West Philadelphia; but most strikingly from the "Plateau" or "Plat" in what is now Fairmount Parkin the Wynnefieldneighborhood of West Philadelphia. Because of these majestic views the Western portions of Fairmount Park are the areas most often chosen for photographers and organizers of civic events.
West Philadelphia's population expanded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with many middle-class breadwinners commuting into the Central Business District a few miles to the east. The western portion of the neighborhood was once home to some of the most expensive real estate in the country, but over the last 50 years has declined in prominence. This is due to increasing crime, which led much of the city's middle and upper classes to migrate to the suburbs and other sections of the city. Striking Victorian architecture remains, recalling the area's past.
West Philadelphia drew national attention in 1978 and 1985 for violent clashes between police and an Afro-centric, back-to-nature group called
MOVE. During the latter confrontation, police firebombed the group's headquarters, killing 11 and destroying an entire block of Osage Avenue and Pine Street.
In recent years, parts of West Philadelphia have undergone "Penntrification," a term that reflects the
University of Pennsylvania's role in gentrificationof the neighborhood; including a marketing campaign to rename part of the area University City. Many young professionals and families have moved into the area. Today, West Philadelphia is a predominantly African-American area with a population of 193,334 that is roughly 85% Black. [http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/SAFFFacts?_event=ChangeGeoContext&geo_id=86000US19131&_geoContext=01000US%7C86000US19119&_street=&_county=&_cityTown=&_state=04000US42&_zip=19131&_lang=en&_sse=on&ActiveGeoDiv=geoSelect&_useEV=&pctxt=fph&pgsl=010&_submenuId=factsheet_1&ds_name=DEC_2000_SAFF&_ci_nbr=null&qr_name=null®=null%3Anull&_keyword=&_industry=]
Most of the houses in West Philadelphia are rowhouses, although there are areas of
semi-detachedand detached houses. The earliest developments began in 1850 and the final period of mass construction ended in 1930. Development was enabled by the creation of the horsecar, which pushed development to about 43rd Street, and, after the arrival of the electrified streetcar in 1892, accelerated to the west and southwest.cite web| url=http://www.studio34yoga.com/trolley.shtml | title="Studio 34's Eponymous Trolley, or, A Short History of Route 34" | accessdate=2008-03-11 ] (See West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic Districtand the Market Street Line.)
Largely commissioned by speculative developers and designed by some of the city's most prolific architects, they were purchased by industrial managers and other professionals who led the first movement of upper and
middle classfrom the more crowded city center. Developers found they could increase profits by catering to this emerging group, shrinking lot sizes, and building more compact, less ornate houses.
of these houses was 25 feet, allowing generous front yards.
Another development on Locust Street was composed of three-story, two-bay, brick, restrained Queen Anne rowhouses. The street was unified by front yards, and enclosed by decorative iron fences. The houses melded the suburban principles of front porches and greenspace with the urban rowhouse form, producing profitable, yet desirable, middle-class suburban housing. Other developments introduced urban density and architectural uniformity: the Queen Anne style with columned porches and decorative spindlework, brickwork and corbelling; steeply pitched gables with fishscale slate shingles; turrets; balconies; and windows with a single pane surrounded by small panes. These houses are typical of the early 20th-century developments in West Philadelphia, and are unified by rhythmic patterning of porch and gable features. The second story, projecting, semi-hexagonal bay is incorporated into this design, an element which defines the later rowhouses.
The western reaches of West Philadelphia included miles of two-story rowhouses with bay windows above classical columned front porches. What resulted was a collection of
Colonial Revivalhouses with Arts and Craftsinfluences, which reflect the sophisticated tastes of post- World War IPhiladelphians. For the first time in West Philadelphia, houses had garages. Later Tudor and Spanish Revival houses, and the Art Deco influenced apartment houses also filled in available lot spaces between developments and made it possible for more middle-class Philadelphians to move to the area.
One of West Philadelphia's most prominent features is the "El", or
SEPTA's Market-Frankford Lineor Blue Line. Completed in 1907, this elevated subway line linked West Philadelphia, Millbourne and Upper Darby to Center City and then later to Frankford., this transportation link is one of Philadelphia's two major transit lines that transport hundreds of thousands of students and workers daily into and around the city. The El once powered the economic engine of West Philadelphia.
Retail districts lined every street where there was a station as well as along Market Street. Most recently many of these retail districts with the exception of 52nd Street have been converted to largely residential areas. One of the aggravating factors in this change has been the recent reconstruction of the EL which due to detours of the "number streets" or numbered North-South thoroughfares and closure of large portions of Market Street, have led to many remaining businesses failing.
Another major transit link in West Philadelphia are the five Subway Surface Lines, often called the Green Lines for their representation on SEPTA route maps. These include five of Philadelphia's remaining six streetcar lines. Combined, these trolley routes convey more than 150,000 passengers daily, and operate 24-hour schedules, even in blizzards.
The Route 10 trolley runs along Lancaster Avenue from 63rd and Malvern Avenue through to 36th and Ludlow Streets where a portal allows access to the subway tunnel into Center City. The Route 34 trolley runs along Baltimore Avenue from
Cobbs Creekat 61st Street to the transit tunnel at 40th Street in University City. The Route 13 trolley runs along Chester Avenue fron the transit tunnel at 40th Street and Baltimore Avenue to 67th Street where it turns off of Chester Avenue and continues along PA Route 13 into Yeadon, Township on to its terminus at Green Lane. The route 11 trolley runs long Woodland Avenue from the transit tunnel at 40th street through to the city line at Cobbs Creekand continues into Darby Borough. The final Green Line is the Route 36 trolley, the longest and furthest south. The 36 trolley leaves the transit tunnel, runs along Woodland Avenue to 49th Street, and turns south to continue along Lindbergh Boulevard until 55th Street when it splits off with Elmwood Avenue. It continues westbound on Elmwood until it turns south on Island Avenue west of 73rd Street, and continues south until its terminus in Penrose Plaza in Southwest Philadelphia, near the Philadelphia International Airport.
Initially, two other trolley lines, the Route 38 trolley which ran from Wynnefield to Center City via Belmont Avenue and Mantua, and the Route 31 trolley, which ran from the city line in Overbrook Park via Haverford Avenue and Market Street into Center City we to be diverted into the transit tunnel at Ludlow Street. But after
National City Linestook over the Philadelphia Transit Company, those plans were scrapped and the routes converted to diesel buses. As well, Route 38 was expanded into newly developed neighborhoods in Bala Cynwyd, and the Route 31 diverted into a circuitous route through West Philadelphia and Mantua.
West Philadelphia is also serviced by five of SEPTA's eight Regional Rail Lines. The R1 services University City at University City Station in the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the southern-most portion of Southwest Philadelphia and the Philadelphia International Airport. The R3 Media-Elwyn line also services University City and portions of Soutwest Philadelphia before continuing to Media and points beyond. The R5 line services Overbrook and Wynnefield before continuing to the "Main Line" communities and Paoli. Another line, the
R6 Cynwydline is an express line from Center City to the Bala Cynwyd neighborhood of Lower Merion Township.Combined, these lines transport thousands of commuters daily into an out of Center City and University City, as well as providing a quick and inexpensive link to the Airport. The majority of these passenger trips originate outside of the city limits, however due to SEPTA's recent initiatives to increase ridership system-wide, increasing numbers of West Philadelphia residents make use of the Regional Rail lines as a high-speed link to Center City by using the multi-ride "Transpass". The transpass allows unlimited rides on SEPTA vehicles within the city limits, including Regional Rail. Recently, community groups have called on SEPTA to reopen previously closed stations along its Regional Rail lines to offer increased access to communities further away from the Market-Frankford Line and the Broad Street Subway.
West Philadelphia's streets are laid out in a modified "grid" pattern. Market Street is the central main thoroughfare running East and West, with "tree" streets above and below, also running East to West. The North-South streets are numbered consecutively starting with 30th street at the
Schuylkill Riverthrough to 68th street on the far Western edge near Cobbs Creek.
Chestnut and Walnut Streets are wide three-lane thoroughfares that form
Pennsylvania Route 3. These two streets constitute one of the major commuter routes into and out of Philadelphia from surrounding Delaware and Chester Counties. Thousands of cars, trucks and buses travel Chestnut and Walnut street daily. In the sixties and seventies these roads even boasted illuminated signs announcing the optimal speed to travel the 4.3 miles trip into Center City without stopping for a red light. Once lined with actual American Chestnutand Walnuttrees that touched across the five lanes of roadway, due to Chestnut blightmany of these trees were removed and replaced with a mix of Sycamore and Poplar trees. City officials found these species much more tolerant of the urban environment and disease resistant, although a handful of Chestnut trees remain near Cobbs Creek.
Another notable street is
Lancaster Avenuewhich begins at 34th street near Drexel Universityand runs through to the city line at City Avenue, and continues on as U.S. Route 30to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and the West Virginiaborder. Lancaster Avenue is also one of the major retail strips in West Philadelphia. Shops and restaurants line the entirety of Lancaster Avenue through to 64th street in the Wynnefield neighborhood. In addition, one of Philadelphia's six remaining streetcar lines, the Route 10 Green Line, transports commuters and students daily along Lancaster Avenue from 36th and Ludlow streets to 63rd and Malvern Avenue in Wynnefield.
Primary and secondary schools
West Philadelphia has some of the oldest and newest schools in the city.
Area public schools are operated by the
School District of Philadelphia. West Philadelphia High Schoolbuilt in 1911, was one of the biggest and most diverse schools in state when it was opened. The students of "West" were the children of middle class blacks; as well as Irish, Jewish, Polish and other immigrant groups.
Other notable high schools in West Philadelphia are
West Philadelphia University City High School, William L. Sayre High Schoolformerly Sayre Middle School, Robert E. Lamberton High School, and Overbrook High School.
There's also a public school in this neighborhood named Moton McMichael elementary school.
Blocks away from "West" were the West Philadelphia Catholic High Schools for Girls at 46th Street and Boys at 48th Street, now consolidated into
West Philadelphia Catholic High Schoolin the building at 46th Street. St. Thomas Moore High School for Boysat 47th and Wyalusing Avenue was closed in 1975 and now houses the Sr Clara Muhammad School.
Colleges and universities
West Philadelphia is the home to several universities, including the
University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and Saint Joseph's University.
West Philadelphia boasts more attractions and destinations than many small cities. There are over 200 restaurants within its borders. Caribbean, Mexican, Soul Food, Halal, Indian, all manner of Asian cuisine, as well as traditional American fare can be had with blocks of one another. There are also many cheesesteaks and hoagies to be had prepared in every style and flavor. Quite a few of "Philadelphia Magazine"
's10 Best food dishes are to be found in West Philadelphia. Among these are Balal's Halal fish-cheesesteaks and fish-hoagies, Fu-Wah's vegetarian hoagies, Zocalo's marinated Carne Bandera, among many, many others.
West Philadelphia has about 75 of Philadelphia's 196 blue historic markers, which note historically important birthplaces, homes, business and other places. Many guided tours use these markers for themed tours and activities for visitors.
The nation's oldest zoological garden, the
Philadelphia Zoois a perennial destination for area school students and families with world-class exhibitions and educational programs. Nestled in the center of Fairmount Park near ample parking and down from Memorial Hall, Kelly Pool, The Carousel House, and the new Microsoftpartner high school, the "School of the Future".
There are also quite a few cultural venues. The Mann Music Center of the Performing Arts perched atop George's Hill is a covered amphitheater that also boasts a grand open-air lawn that has seen concerts by the
Boston Pops, Luther Vandross, and many more acts. Concerts are frequently closed with fireworks. There is also the Bushfire Theater of the Performing Artson 52nd Street, a longtime center for avant-garde and culturally introspective works by African American playwrights and choreographers
West Philadelphia in the media
The area gained some fame through the theme song to the
NBC sitcom" The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" in which Wynnefieldnative Will Smithsings, "In West Philadelphia, born and raised . . ."
The NBC drama "
American Dreams" is set in West Philadelphia in the mid-1960s.
West Philadelphia was also the home of
American Bandstand. The popular dance show and career starter for host Dick Clarkwas produced at television station WFIL-TV (Channel 6, now WPVI-TV) in "Studio 'B'", which was located in their just-completed addition at 4548 Market Street. The show featured local high school students, turning some into teen idols. The former television station is now home to the West Philadelphia Enterprise Center, although the large satellite dish on the roof still remains.
* [http://www.uchs.net/Rosenthal/wphila.html University City Historical District] - history of the area now known as West Philadelphia
* [http://www.phila.gov/neighborhoods/Neighborhoods-Phila/West/west.html City government's West Philadelphia page] : statistics, links
* [http://westphillydata.library.upenn.edu/infoR_mainframe.htm West Philadelphia Data and Information Resources] - University of Pennsylvania
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