Urban development is a delicate balancing act, and sometimes we must say goodbye to cherished local destinations in order to make way for a plan that is ultimately more beneficial to the community and to the city at large. One of such trade-offs is slated to occur at 7619 Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy, Northwest Philadelphia, where the Trolley Car Diner is set to meet the wrecking ball, to be replaced by a six-story, mixed-use residential development designed by Morrissey Design. Although the charming chrome, neon, mural, and freestanding trolley of the diner will be missed, the proposal at hand makes for more effective use of the site, bringing significant residential density within a two0-block walk of the Mount Airy Station of the SEPTA Regional Rail and replacing the auto-centric restaurant with pedestrian-friendly retail.
As a typology, diners trace their origin to the days when railroad and trolley cars were re-purposed as stationary dining facilities. Later builders adapted the sleek, Art Moderne aesthetic of turn-of-the-century trolleys into freestanding, purpose-built structures. The added neon and chrome plating further resonated with the emerging car culture, relevant not only because both the railroad and automotive aesthetics focused on speed and moving light, but also because diners served the ever-growing number of car riders.
While the majority of diners follow a common design trends yet are generally located alongside local state routes and highways, the Trolley Car Diner holds a closer connection to the typology’s roots. The establishment faces Germantown Avenue, also known as State Route 4007, which is paved in cobblestone and retains its original two-track trolley car rail. Although trolley service along the avenue has long since been replaced by the route 23 bus, the diner retains a classic Philadelphia trolley as a permanent outdoor feature, re-purposed as an ice cream stand.
As they catered primarily to a car-bound clientele, diners advanced the suburban culture and mindset, and thus, despite their charms, have contributed to the decline of traditional, walkable, transit-oriented towns and cities and the rise of auto-centric sprawl. As such, despite its obvious charm, it is difficult to lament the replacement of the single-story restaurant and its amply-sized parking lot with a pedestrian-minded structure that will boost the area’s housing stock while returning it to its original, urban-minded roots.
The greater Philadelphia metropolitan area originally grew along horse car lines, and later train lines, which radiated from the city center into hinterland farms. Compact, walking-friendly neighborhoods and towns clustered around train stations, with buildings featuring ground-level stores and apartments above. After falling out of favor in the car-crazed postwar era, cities are seeing a return to such traditional models. One such example may be observed at 7619 Germantown Avenue, which, despite its upgrade in scale, emulates local roots that are deeper than that of the diner that it replaces.
Situated on a sloping surface, the building will rise five to six stories tall and will offer 122,000 square feet of interior space. While concessions are still made for the driver, with 38 planned car spaces, the structure will also embrace environmentally-friendly trends with its 39 bicycle spaces and a sprawling green roof.
As the diner heavily embraced trolley imagery, so does the design echo the proximate train station. Renderings show “Mount Airy Station” signage at a ground-level awning and a large, Art Deco-styled wall clock facing Germantown Avenue, in a nod to the quintessential feature of train stations. Even the round arches at its stately gray brick facade may be read as a nod to Richardsonian Romanesque, a style frequently associated with the heyday of railroads.
Despite its histrionic appeal, the diner’s trolley stylization was purely symbolic, as in truth the structure catered primarily to the driver. In contrast, the proposed building’s relation to train service goes well beyond simple symbolism, as its location near the train station will offer a direct commute into central Philadelphia to destinations such as Center City, University City, Temple University, and more. In the meantime, the 6,655-square-foot retail component is geared to the pedestrian as effectively as traditional train station-centered commercial hubs.
A land transaction for the site took place in March, yet no permits have yet been filed for the building since that time. And although we will, admittedly, miss the quaint diner, the time has come for the site to be reborn as a project that will serve the community and the city as a whole more effectively than its predecessor.
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Love the curves.
Looks great tbh.
This is the same developer that has built other building in the areas. He proposes these building that on paper look great, but does not keep up with the maintenance , exploits the community, charges in robot high rent for “luxury” when the quality is worst than the worst, and continues to take advantage of the community via your local politicians.
I’ll encourage you all to block this project. This is not a good community project.
The building design is amazing! But with the old trolley lines arent there/havent there been plans to restore service to it? I believe it was rt 23?
Technically the 23 trolley is only suspended. On the other hand it’s been suspended since 1992, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The planned parking is not sufficient it is a major concern to existing community residents. Travel in the area is already heavy, not only will parking be at a problem but daily commuting will also suffer.
The point is to encourage transit use, encouraging residents to ride route 23 buses and take Regional Rail. Its standard Transit Oriented Development
So..you think people are going to take the bus to go grocery shopping??? Not to mention other items which
one needs a car for?? Having groceries delivered is expensive!!
This place is infected with NIMBYs who do NOT want any vehicle parking whatsoever.
I don’t post as often because of those NIMBYs and many others have also given up posting entirely.
Those posters are all 20 year old minimalists not concerned about parking their motorized scooters often seen sipping their cappuccinos at Starbucks.
They are ignorant and oppose any parking whatsoever.
Just wait until they are in their senior years struggling to get their grocery bags onto the bus.
But wait, they have no grocery bags because they eat out 100% of the time.
It’s an arrogant statement to assume that residents only head towards center city. Most of my neighbors actually head in the other directions and with the lack of rail and even adequate buses the car is the only option
I live in the area. This apartment would be right on the 23 bus line which runs frequently to Mt Airy and Chestnut Hill with multiple grocery store and restaurant options along the way. And a short stroll to several shopping areas in Chestnut Hill. As the article mentioned, it’s also two blocks from the Chestnut Hill east line which will take care of commuting. Also, there is plenty of on-street parking in the area as it’s not a particularly busy residential location.
Roman it is evident that you DO NOT live in the area because if you did you would not have made the statement that there is plenty of on street parking. Tell me where that parking is? I live within 200 feet of this project and we HAVE NO PARKING NOW. So with 114 more units it’s going to be a nightmare! Traffic is a problem now too with the additional cars it’s going to get worse. The neighbors were not consulted on this project. Greedy council people and real estate investors made back door deals without notifying the neighbors this project is going to backfire in their faces. Remember what’s done in the dark comes to light…..
This is a buy right project. There is nothing the neighbors and their councilwoman can do as all they can do is to pass CDR. Like the other posters have said, parking if limited but people can take the 23 bus to walk to My Airy Station to go to Center City Philadelphia.
Looks nice. Its a little strange, but it looks very high quality and you cannot say its boring. I dig the gold clock.
I love ❤ it
Horrible…detracts from the neighborhood. Mt. Airy has had enough gentrification. And you DO need a car here. Why is there going to be planned retail space when there are so many empty storefronts in Chestnut Hill?? Will add to traffic and
parking problems. Do not let these developers take control
of our neighborhoods!!
So investment and building nice things bad? Got it.
To “Brian” and the other cranky people who are making negative comments it is clear to me as a 20+ year resident of this particular section of Mount Airy you have no idea what you’re talking about regarding this neighborhood or the people. Just go scurry away and crap on another project on another link, like you do. As for me, a person who actually knows how close-by are the grocery stores and the farmers market in the neighborhood, this is an awesome proposed project for an otherwise lackluster site.
Speak for yourself.
Mark, you are NOT god.
In fact, you do not get to dictate how everyone in the city should just instantly give up driving because YOU oppose parking.
Sadly, young Mark is more concerned about where to park his trendy scooter than vehicle parking for grown adults with reasonable expectations.
So, Mark; take your young NIMBY tribe and “scurry” out.
It really is shameful that so many of the opponents of this project resort to name-calling when they find out people disagree with them. The fact is that lots of us who live in Mt. Airy things it will be a great addition.
Mark I have lived in East Mount Airy for 59 years and I DON’T agree with this project nor many of the other projects that have been developed. They are taking away from the beauty of Mount Airy. What Mount Airy has represented all of these years….. neighbors, closeness, oneness, etc. not building building to make money and not have front yards or backyards for children to play. Where are the family values that We once prided ourselves on?
[Editor comment] I am happy to see a lively discussion but let’s take it easy on name-calling and personal insults.
Brian — I am not young. And you clearly know nothing whatsoever about this neighborhood. I’ve lived here in the immediate vicinity of this proposed development 20 years as a car-driving adult and I don’t have a driveway and I’ve never once had to park more than two blocks from my house to find a parking spot in over 20 years (and I lived that time across from a very active ballfield/playground). There are two grocery stores within walking distance of this site. There is a CVS and a Wawa’s about a block away. There is a really good weekend farmers’ market a block from the site and a fancy one within walking distance. Oh, and two bakeries, and two SEPTA stops on different regional rail lines (Allen Lane and Mount Airy). And while this development may be filled with 20-somethings if it is rental, if it turns out to be condos it will be filled with retirees downsizing from larger homes in the immediate vicinity (having just downsized myself after owning a Victorian twin for two decades). Your posts, Brian, that I have read on a few projects repeat similar themes — 20 somethings bad. Parking good.
Looks like a great project that will provide professionally managed and maintained rental options for the area.
Every development ever built in this city was at some point met with the usual “oh my! but what about PARKING?!?! what about the TRAFFIC?1?!” and the ever common “why not make it a PARK?!?!”
And every time those objections are dealt with appropriately – which is to say they are rightfully ignored for being based on nothing whatsoever.
Traffic? There is no traffic problem here and 114 rental units will go unnoticed. That increases the population of Mt. Airy by less than 0.5% but suddenly we’re going to have gridlock?
Want private property to be a park? Buy some land and make it park.
I have been in this area for over fifty years so much is going on where do the long time people live all this building going on its for the young are we to just move out and let the contractors and investors take what they want living here in the neighborhood was once and proud and beautiful thing now it’s all the money. When the young people decide they no longer want to live here who will pay that high rent or buy these things or will they become section 8 housing everything looks good but don’t stay the same and this too will pass
What will happen to the actual diner? Has it been sold or will it be demolished?
I live in Mt. Airy on a corner block on Chew Ave, 2 homes being built behind me tore up my back fence and left about 2-3 feet of space under my newly installed fence. Then laid wood underneath it. I have been talking to the contractors, next step License & Inspection.