New developments at 48th and Brown

Rendering of West Village Apartments
Architect’s rendering of the finished project

The new West Village Apartments are being rented out while they are being completed at 800 N. 48th Street in Mill Creek. Currently, City Wide Realty, the owner of the property, is helping would-be tenants who are short on roommates find them with a roommate placement service.

View of the development from 48th and Brown streets
View of the development from 48th and Brown streets (Brown in foreground). One of the buildings is substantially complete while exterior work remains on the second.

West Village Apartments advertises itself as a gated community with private parking. A four-bedroom unit in the building goes for a pricey $2,200.  The project itself is being completed by B & T Home Builders.

View of the future interior courtyard
View of the future interior courtyard

Those same builders own the old vacant warehouse across the street at 4800 Brown St. On Sept. 25, 2012, the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted B&T Home Builders a permit to build a one-story addition on the warehouse and convert it into an apartment complex with 34 rental apartment units, ranging in size from 600 to 1,100 square feet.

4800 Brown St
The vacant warehouse B & T owns across Brown Street at 4800 Brown. It remains much as it appears in this Google Street View image from last year; it’s not clear whether the owner is waiting until work on West Village is complete before tackling this project.

The warehouse has been abandoned for over a decade, if not longer, and used to house the Universal Dental Company. One-third of those units will be underground and 34 parking spaces will be provided on a vacant lot next to the back of the building along Folsom Street.  The parking lot is behind several small row homes on Brown Street. That caused a stir last year, but the plan was approved anyway.

Rear view of the southerly building under construction
Rear view of the southerly building under construction. Based on the rendering above, the rear of a third building to be erected on the left will back up onto this unfinished driveway.

We don’t know what B&T Home Builders, which was formed in 2000 by Moshe Barazani and Hillel Tsarfati, is waiting for. Perhaps after construction is complete at the West Village Apartments, construction will begin on the warehouse, which is a blighting influence on the pristine West Village Apartments and certainly detracts potential tenants. But as of now, there are no signs of construction. A permit for a dumpster at the site lapsed in July.

Both sites are across the street from the Mill Creek Playground and several blocks away from the famed Lucien Blackwell Homes, which is one of the more amazing stories of transformation in West Philadelphia. In 2000, one of the homes on nearby Lex Street was the site of one of the worst mass murders in Philadelphia history, in which seven people were executed over a drug turf dispute.

Photos by the author except as noted

Buildings Then and Now: From horror to hope on Lex Street

816 N Lex St today
816 N. Lex St. today…. Photo by the author.
Lex Street in 2000
…and in 2000, shortly after the Lex Street massacre. Photo courtesy Philadelphia Weekly.

Over 13 years ago, 816 N. Lex St. in Mill Creek was known for something other than public housing and the towering projects that shadowed the block—it was known for half-off, high-quality crack cocaine.

Then it became nationally known for one of the worst massacres in modern Philadelphia history when 10 people were shot and seven of them murdered in cold blood at the home on Lex Street. It was all over a beef on who could sell crack and at what quality and what price.

“If you only woulda listened,” one of the killers is said to have told the victims who had ordered to lie down on the dining room floor of the crack house. He then sprayed them with bullets. One woman, Yvette Long, managed to survive the horror and limped to the street with six bullets in her legs, screaming for help. But she encountered a ghostly silence, as most of the homes on the street were vacant shells. The dreams of architects loomed large over the street in the from of three 17-story public housing towers, and those dreams turned to nightmares as the haze of gunfire filled the night air.

The story of the Mill Creek Apartments, or Mill Creek, goes back to November 1950 when the earliest drawings of the project appear in the Louis I. Kahn Collection at the University of Pennsylvania. Khan hoped to transform the area, known for the creek buried beneath city streets, into a new type of hope for city residents: affordable housing for the residents of West Philadelphia. He did serve as a professor in Penn’s Graduate School of Fine Arts (now School of Design), so he most likely had some personal attachments to the project as well.

Houses on N. 44th St. near Olive, south of Lex Street, 1955
A row house at 756 N. 44th St., south of Olive, near Lex Street and the Mill Creek Homes (under construction at left), 1955. Photo from PhillyHistory.org.

Then, in 1961, part of the neighborhood collapsed at 50th and Funston streets, causing three deaths and 11 homes to be condemned. It was an ominous sign of things to come. Part of the problem was that around 1900, the actual Mill Creek was buried in a large concrete sewer. By the time of the Lex Street Massacre, the area had fell into disarray.

756 N. 44th, around the corner from Lex Street, 1955
Driveway and garage at 756 N. 44th, 1955. Mill Creek Homes construction at left. Photo from PhillyHistory.org.

Kahn designed the Mill Creek project in a bid to offer low-cost public housing to those in need. A combination of three high-rises and smaller row homes encompassed his vision for Mill Creek. But the massacre changed things and the Philadelphia Housing Authority demolished the three high-rise projects in 2002. A few years later, Lex Street would be redesigned.

Lex Street in 2013
The 800 block of Lex Street today, part of the Lucien Blackwell Homes development. Photo by the author.
Mill Creek Housing
Mill Creek Housing, designed by Louis Kahn and built between 1955 and 1962. Now demolished. Photo from the North Carolina State University collection.

In 2007, the new Lex Street opened as part of the Lucien B. Blackwell Homes development and is much more welcoming. You would never guess just by looking at the 18 homes on the street that seven people tragically had their lives ripped from them on the street only seven years before, leaving their families torn apart. Nobody deserves to die like that. Face down. Counting the seconds. Asking “if only.”

The PHA catches a lot of flak, some of it deserved, some of it not. But the transformation of Lex Street and Mill Creek as a whole from horror story to one of hope is one of the more inspiring stories in Philadelphia’s redevelopment, especially that of West Philadelphia.

Photos as indicated