Pam Zenzola will admit that since she’s moved into her townhouse on the 1300 block of Federal Street she has made an effort to purchase at least one item from the Rosa Food Product line while grocery shopping
“I know the products are quality, so that helps. But I also live on their old warehouse site,” Zenzola said. “It’s silly, but I like to have something Rosa in my house…always.”
Zenzola, who moved into her home in 2007, is one of 17 residents living in luxury townhouses located on Federal Street between Clarion and Juniper streets in South Philadelphia.
Originally known as “Rosa Courts,” these townhouses were built in 2006 on the original warehouse site of Rosa Food Products, a fourth generation family owned and operated wholesale distributor of Italian foods.
The townhouses themselves are addressed for the 1200 block of Clarion and Juniper streets as well as the 1300 block of Federal Street. Though what is now a private garage and backyard space for new families and community members was once a parking lot for trucks and 40 foot trailers.
“I think we were seen as an eyesore to the block and the community,” Jack Fiotio, whose grandfather purchased the land in the 1930s, said. “We had all the shipping and delivery trucks trying to fit on Federal Street to enter the lot and it just wasn’t working.”
Rosa Food was originally a store located on the corner of 13th and Federal Streets. But as the business grew and became more popular, the Foti family expanded the number of the stores throughout the Philadelphia area. The family wanted to keep the business close to their South Philadelphia origins and established a warehouse blocks away to act as a distributing facility for their cooking oils, vinegar, mustard and a number of Italian goods.
Fioti, however, specifically remembers numerous traffic jams and accidents outside of the warehouse entrance, especially when the 64 SEPTA bus route ran along Federal Street several years ago.
“There was no room for us to park or fill trucks” Fioti said. In 2004, the family moved their warehouse facility to Grays Ferry Avenue.
The warehouse property was immediately picked up by a developer, who chose not to speak on the development, but through a change of hands, the property is now being sold by CITYSPACE, a Philadelphia-based real estate company with a mission to reshape real estate industry in Philadelphia.
The townhouses, covering about 3,000 square feet per unit, are similar in design. Each three-story home contains a refurbished basement, hardwood living-room and kitchen floors, a fireplace, two-and-a-half baths, three bedrooms, of which the master is on its own separate floor with access to a balcony and the roof.
While the current homeowners were impressed with the beauty of the townhouses, the access and connection to South Philadelphia area and the wider city were key in their decisions to move in.
“We wanted a house that was new and large, but we wanted it in a vibrant neighborhood,” Pam Zenzola said, who as a frequent visitor to South Philadelphia was already familiar with the area and the community.
“East Passyunk Ave is thriving, it is up-and-coming and it is a five to ten minute walk from here,” Zenzola, current president of the Passyunk Square Civic Association, said.
Moving from Horsham, Pennsylvania, Zenzola and her husband first moved to the block with two cars-but now, they only own one because the other was no longer being used by the couple.
“The Broad Street Line is right at the corner and you can get to the city within seconds,” Erin Scavazzo said. He also lives on the 1300 block of Federal Street. “You walk everywhere because you can.”
James DiMartino, however, remembers a time where you could not walk on the block.
“I’ve seen the whole process of this place,” DiMartino, who has lived across the street from the warehouse and now townhome complex, since 1978, said.
“There was a lot of trash especially on the corner of Federal and Juniper Streets. The factory did its best trying to clean up the area but the combination of that and people getting off the bus and throwing garbage and the residents not caring made it really hard to keep the block clean,” DiMartino said.
DiMartino will not say that the addition of the townhouses has necessarily improved the block or has encouraged other homeowners to rehab and take care of their properties. But he does believe the addition of the townhouses has made the block more of a neighborhood.
“Everybody will always do what they need to do when it comes to their home-replace a window, add a light fixture, change the door…But the lack of an industrial factory here and the gain of people here has added to the quality of life,” DiMartino said.