By JUDY WEST
The "Left of Center" neighborhood around Penn has the kind of housing stock other areas can only dream of. Block after tree-lined block of handsome 19th-century homes—some admittedly in need of TLC—beckon those in search of square footage and historical appeal. Abundant green space, a weekend farmers market, and cozy neighborhood coffee shops all add to the allure. And now, with the Penn Alexander School thriving at 43rd and Spruce, there’is even a good public school.
But if three floors of cavernous rooms is more than you need for you and your cat, or if the idea of embarking on a whole house renovation makes you blanch, University City can be a tough place to find a manageable home.
Until now, that is. Next spring, if all goes according to schedule, 30-plus new upscale condos will be completed at 4200 Pine St., until recently the home of Penn Press, Creative Communications and several other Penn offices.
As Vice President for Real Estate and Facilities Omar Blaik explains it, the condo conversion is right in line with Penn’'s Master Plan. That document, he says, provided clear guidelines to invest in the neighborhood, make it more vibrant and active and limit the growth of the campus beyond 40th Street. ”We took it seriously, he says, ”and not only did we not expand beyond 40th, but we started looking at how to reposition some of the assets we already owned past 40th Š We started focusing on how to get offices back on campus.
Penn Press was relocated to Wayne Hall, the 3905 Spruce St. location that used to be home to WXPN. Creative Communications is now ensconced in Saint Leonards Court at 38th and Chestnut. Their former home—the 1905 Horace Trumbauer designed mansion and annexes at 4200 Pine—cried out to become condos, according to Blaik.
“We felt there was a huge market given the interest rates and the fact that most of the houses on the market have been quickly sold and there is not enough supply.
Prices start at $269,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bath flat and rise to $1.75 million for the original Trumbauer mansion. In between, there are two- and three-bedroom condos designed as flats, bi-level and tri-level residences. All feature hardwood floors in the main living areas, kitchens with granite countertops and ceramic tiles and central air. Reserved parking spaces are also available on the property. One of the University’'s goals, says Blaik, is to encourage more Penn staff and faculty to live in the neighborhood—currently, that number is around 16 percent. To that end, Penn’'s real estate development partner in this project, the Rodin Group (no relation to Dr. Judith Rodin), sent out an informational postcard in March exclusively to the Penn community. Fifteen of the condos have been pre-sold as a result of that marketing effort.
Blaik believes newly recruited young faculty may find the condos particularly attractive, and this, he says can only enhance the Penn educational experience by offering more opportunities for faculty and students to mingle outside of the classroom. ”We're hoping to establish a new set of circumstances, says Blaik, “where the normal thing for a new faculty member will be to start by asking if there's a home around here in West Philadelphia, before thinking of the Main Line.”
For more information on the 4200 Pine Street condominiums, go to www.4200pine.com.
Originally published on April 14, 2005