Besides walking between campus buildings or to and from 30th Street Station, how much of the neighborhood do you really know? I happen to think I know the nearby streets pretty well, especially since I walk them every day.
But surely, there’s plenty that I’ve missed, or walked by quickly. On a recent gorgeous spring afternoon, I set out to change that.
I don some comfy shoes and set off on a self-guided architectural walking tour of University City. I’m not worried about wandering around aimlessly, because the good people at University City District have already hashed out the details. They’ve plotted out a two-and-a-half mile route and posted it on their web site. Also on the site are tours of Powelton Village, University City cultural attractions and the University Square area.
But it’s architecture I’m after, and so, following my directions, I walk west on Chestnut and take a left on 40th Street. On this day, it’s bustling with activity and the tables outside the eateries are packed. I cross over Spruce and hang a left onto the 3900 block of Pine Street—my first stop on the tour. My handy UCD guide tells me that these row homes were developed during the late 19th century as the result of a population boom. Today, they’re prime real estate for University students, due to the close proximity to campus and the trolley station just one block away.
I turn around and hoof it up Pine, pausing to admire the south side of the 4000 block. The guide calls it the Hamilton Family Estate named after landowner William Hamilton of the Woodlands, but to me, it’s a stretch of gorgeous gray stone homes touched with green-tinged copper details. Reverend Charles Krauth, a Penn trustee from 1868 to 1883, used to reside in one of these homes.
I continue west on Pine, admiring the thick canopy of old trees that shade the street. The former home of Penn Press sits at the corner of 42nd and Pine—soon to be luxury condominiums—and my favorite group of elegant early 20th-century homes with brightly painted trim line both sides of the street. A couple of homes on my left boast elegant curved front porches and have small signs tacked to the brick that read “c. 1905.”
Further up Pine, on the 4400 block, I take a fresh look at the Colonial Revival houses, which feature classical columns and porches, unlike their streetmates just a couple of blocks away.
I make my way uphill, past the Pinehurst Apartments at 45th, towards the Garden Court National Register District. My guide tells me that this district, developed during the 1920s, was designed with elements of English Garden City design in mind. To me, the homes along 47th Street look as homey and comfortable as English cottages, complete with what the guide calls “service lanes” tucked behind the houses.
I reach lively Baltimore Avenue, and turn right, towards 48th Street and the majestic Calvary United Methodist Church. It stands at the junction of Baltimore, 48th and Florence Avenue. and is made of a cool gray stone with two large stained glass windows that catch the light beautifully.
I continue walking down wide 48th street, past some lovely Victorians with daffodils and crocuses in bloom in small front plots. I head left on Springfield Avenue and the sound of bongo drums from a nearby porch echoes my footsteps.
At the corner of 47th Street and Springfield sits St. Francis de Sales—an unlikely place for a church so grand, since it’s smack in the middle of this residential block. It’s definitely worth stopping to admire the church’s magnificent golden Byzantine dome.
I continue on to Clark Park, between 43rd and 45th streets, and Baltimore and Woodland avenues. Though the guide takes note of the world’s only statue of Charles Dickens located in the park, my favorite spot is the sunken green at 45th and Chester—the location (albeit unofficial) of the neighborhood dog park, where canines of all shapes and sizes frolic in the spring air.
My tour’s about to end with the Woodlands—one of the most popular University City sites. But first, I pop down Woodland Terrace to check out the graceful house where Paul Phillipe Cret once lived.
I backtrack to Chester and enter the Woodlands, the 54-acre cemetery that is a favorite among runners and walkers. I walk one loop around the circular path, pausing at the classical revival mansion, circa 1789. I can almost squeeze out the rising sounds of traffic nearby.
To take your own UCD walking tour, go to www.ucityphila.org.
Originally published on April 13, 2006