HISTORY OF WALNUT HILL
Walnut Hill is located in the heart of West Philadelphia, and extends between 45th and 52nd Streets from Market Street to Spruce Street. The neighborhood initially developed as a streetcar suburb in the mid-1800s after the construction of the Walnut Street and Market Street bridges, which allowed residents to commute to Center City. The construction of the Kirkbride Institute in 1859, Presbyterian Hospital in 1872, the University of Pennsylvania in 1875, and Drexel University in 1892 accelerated growth, as there was an immediate need for housing for the institutions’ personnel. Most of Walnut Hill’s housing stock was built between 1910 and 1940, following a population increase after the construction of the Market-Frankford Elevated line.
Until the mid-1960s, Walnut Hill was a stable, working-class neighborhood with many young families and excellent public schools. The area was economically vibrant during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; major companies such as the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company’s national headquarters (4601 Market Street), the WFIL television studio that produced “American Bandstand” (4548 Market Street), and the Philadelphia Arena (4530 Market Street) moved to Walnut Hill and created numerous employment opportunities. Additionally, the 52nd Street commercial corridor, extending between Arch Street and Spruce Street since the early 1900s, allowed local entrepreneurs to start businesses in the neighborhood and contributed to Walnut Hill’s economic strength.
Since the early 1990s, numerous community groups have rallied around revitalization efforts in Walnut Hill and other neighborhoods close to University City. Key to the revitalization is the 1992 relocation of The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation to its current location. Occupying the former WFIL studio at 4548 Market Street, The Enterprise Center provides access to capital, building capacity, business education and economic development opportunities to high-potential minority entrepreneurs. Located within TEC-CDC is the Magic Johnson / HP Inventor Center, a state-of-the-art lab with 25 workstations and other technology resources.
The 2006 University City District Report Card, a 31-page report that seeks to persuade residents, real estate brokers, and business leaders that neighborhood revitalization continues to gain momentum, states that both the number of sales and average price of home sales around the University of Pennsylvania have increased dramatically. The report also highlights West Philadelphia’s progress in maintaining ethnic diversity and creating new developments. Walnut Hill’s transformation over the past decade reflects these findings, and these improvements have the potential to result in a vibrant, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational neighborhood of choice.
In the past few years, Walnut Hill has benefited from significant public and institutional investments. SEPTA’s $570 million reconstruction of the Market-Frankford El between 46th Street and Millbourne replaced 11,000 feet of the current support structure, rebuilt six stations, and greatly improve lighting, streetscape and passenger safety. Walnut Hill’s 46th and 52nd Street stations were completed renovated and reopened in spring 2008.
Other re-building includes the Living Independently for Elders Center at 4508 Chestnut Street. Re-using a vacant human services building, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing now operates a center that provides nursing services, physical therapy, and social activities for seniors during the day.
Finally, The Partnership CDC’s $12 million residential project, featuring renovated and new mixed-income housing along the 4500 and 4600 blocks of Sansom Street, is a successful demonstration of neighborhood rehabilitation that restores Walnut Hill’s unique housing stock and maintains the neighborhood’s character. Future developments in Walnut Hill include The Plaza at Enterprise Heights, an innovative mixed-se and transit-oriented development with commercial office space, retail space as well as on-site parking. Located at 4646 Market Street, the Plaza is a project of Enterprise Heights Real Estate Development, TEC-CDC, was completed in 2011.