Strawberry Mansion: A Diamond In the Rough

A worker resurfaces the exterior of the brownstones lining W. Diamond St.

A worker resurfaces the exterior of the brownstones lining W. Diamond St.

Mixed feelings abound when talking to the residents of the 3200 block of West Diamond Street about the renovation of buildings by a private company. “This is a neighborhood in mild transition,” says Maurice Harris, a carpenter working on the site. “It’s still a place where you see drugs deals in broad daylight,” Harris says.

“This neighborhood is in serious trouble and we need help. We just aren’t getting it,” says Richard Porter, a West Diamond Street resident. The issue causing all the discussion is the rehabilitation of the historic brownstone buildings built in the late 1890s that line the one side of West Diamond Sreet from 33rd to 29th streets.

The reconstruction started in November of 2009 and is slated for completion this coming November. Funding the reconstruction is Philadelphia based property management company Pennrose Properties, LLC. According to its mission statement, “Our developments are…building better communities to improve and enrich our residents’ lives. We’re focused on building communities, not just structures.”

A fresh coat of paint goes a long way to spruce up a corner lot.

Some of the residents on the opposite side of the street would fervently disagree with that statement, but many of those people were misinformed. Some thought Temple University was doing the work and didn’t want college kids moving in and throwing loud parties. While others thought it was another company, Korman Residential, LLC, doing the construction. None of the residents who shared this thinking would comment on the record.

Others like Felicia Sullivan, a resident of the 3200 block of West Diamond Street, think the new buildings would be good for the ailing community. “I just love the new apartments going up. It makes the community look better and, hopefully, the people that move in will take responsibility for their properties. Too many people nowadays are out here messing up the whole place,” Sullivan says.

Responsibility is at the top of most people’s thinking when it comes to the new construction. “Every single unit of the 56 we are working on is a total gutting and rebuild,” says Danny Black, the site foreman. “The people who used to live here destroyed these homes and we’ll be back here doing the same job in 15 years if they let it deteriorate again,” adds Harris.

Pennrose Properties, LLC, is playing its hand very deliberately. “These 56 units will be low income, but you must be working to be approved. There are income guidelines from HUD we must follow. If you don’t meet the criteria, we can’t rent to you,” says Patricia Huff, a leasing agent for Pennrose.

A neighborhood revitalization at 32nd and Diamond streets

The aim of the project according to Huff is “to bring back the beauty of the old Strawberry Mansion and bring it back to the way it used to be when this was a place for working people.”

Pennrose Properties is doing its best to ensure a healthy neighborhood with the addition of a community center to be located at 3200 and 3202 W. Diamond St. “The exact functions of the center is not established right now, but it will be good for the community,” says Huff. Also, the company is building “six handicapped units with elevator access in the rear,” says Black.

Some neighbors think the buildings are a good idea, but are hesitant to say anything definite about the future of the project. “They look like nice places if you can afford the price, but I just hope they don’t move rich people in here and push all the poor people out of the neighborhood like garbage,” says Sullivan. The apartments start at $478 a month plus utilities if you don’t qualify for subsidies.

Subsidized housing was an issue for many of the construction workers. “This is hardly a private investment, this is our tax dollars hard at work. These people will live here for basically nothing, while the rest of us pick up the bill,” says Harris. The animosity espoused by the workers was tempered by their affection for the neighborhood residents. “These are great people, and there have been no problems at all. No burglaries, no missing equipment, no damage. I feel completely safe down here,” says Black.

Safety is also a concern for many of the residents of the 3200 block of West Diamond Street “People need to feel safe in their homes and communities. You want to be able to have your kids play outside and not worry about gun shots. Maybe these homes are the answer we have been looking for,” says Sullivan.

According to Harris, the group will begin “another phase of reconstruction in November just down the block.”

While the debate continues, some residents remain positive and think that the project will turn around the neighborhood. “I am just hoping everything will be nice forever and maintain everything. If these properties (her own) can look as good as the construction across from me… for Philadelphia, Fairmount Park, the Brownstones…it will all be beautiful,” says Palmer Hall, owner of both 3224 and 3226 W. Diamond St.

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  1. THANKS MY GRANDMOM…..Palmer Hall…… I love you Grandmom you look good on this video…. please get in contact with me.

  2. To Stacey in the above comment. Your grandmother has no phone, you must stop by the home and see her if you wish to contact her. Her address is contained within the story entitled “St. Palmer of Diamond Street.” Your grandmother is truly one of the most humble and endearing people I have had the pleasure of meeting. My best wishes go out to you and yours.

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