“Up and coming” can describe many Philadelphia neighborhoods. Graduate Hospital is no exception. The southwest Center City neighborhood is bordered by South Street to the north and Washington Avenue to the south but one of the most recognizable markers in the neighborhood is the National Historic Naval Square estate.
Naval Square, located on Grays Ferry Avenue between Bainbridge and Christian streets, is now a gated community of luxury townhomes and condominiums. These homes exist on the grounds of the first United States Naval Academy, which was also used as a retirement facility for sailors and marines.
The immense estate was named a National Historic Landmark in 1971, shortly before the Naval Home moved to Gulfport, Mississippi in 1976. During that time, the entire neighborhood suffered as talks of a new expressway surfaced, and residents saw an increase in drug and crime rates as longtime neighbors and business owners deserted the neighborhood. The destitute nature of the area gave way to low property values, which encouraged developers to buy property and restructure the area to fit the booming lifestyle it now enjoys.
Toll Brothers bought the property in 1988. In 2005, their first homes built at the site became available for sale. Since the houses started selling, only 12 remain to be purchased.
Brian Emmons, Division Vice President for Toll Brothers City Living, insisted the property was perfect for development.
“There’s not a lot of 22 acre parcels in Philadelphia,” Emmons said. “So, when you look at the property itself, location and the historic relevance of the property or the luxury homes, it was just a natural fit.”
Emmons also credits a lot of new development in the area to the success of Naval Square.
“Naval Square, as a community itself, I think, was sort of the catalyst for a lot of development and that occurred outside the walls within—literally, within eight to ten blocks,” Emmons said. “There’s been a dramatic change from people, buying homes that were vacant, and condemned, and empty lots and developers came in and built new homes… Recently the entire neighborhood has really made a change for the better.”
The streets are certainly vibrant with the rejuvenation of life from communities in the Graduate Hospital area. Between the mid-1990s through the 2000s, the Graduate Hospital saw a revived business life. The crime rate has also dramatically decreased, with only 32 reported thefts occurring in the neighborhood between October and November 2013.
The people who live in the Graduate Hospital area also expressed an enthusiasm for the neighborhood, many intent on continuing to live there. The neighborhood currently enjoys a reputation as one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city.
Fishtown transplant Zach Thornbury, who moved to 25th and Christian streets in August, said he absolutely loves his new home.
“It’s a really great neighborhood,” Thornbury said. “It’s funny because when I moved here I really didn’t know much about it but whenever I mention the area that I’m in now, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s a really good neighborhood to be in.’ I’m starting to call this place home now.”
Naval Square itself is often eye-catching for young families to look into as the grassy areas attract those with children, and this is no surprise when looking at area statistics. As of 2011, at least 23.7 percent of the Graduate Hospital area’s population was comprised of married couples with children—remarkably higher than the 16.8 percent of the overall Philadelphia population made up of married couples with children, City Data revealed.
The neighborhood consistently boasted the highest number of single family values in Philadelphia from 1997 to 2008, according to a 2010 Econsult report.
Claire Guth has lived on Webster Street, which sits adjacent to Naval Square, for the past two years with her husband and son. Guth said the walls around Naval Square, which are typically seen as an attraction for young families, give a sense of elitism but does nothing for security.
“We used to live at 18th and Pine, and my husband’s apartment got robbed three times,” Guth said. “But here we’ve had nothing. So I think the gate creates a false sense of security. People could still get robbed. It’s just a wall.”
Guth also said the relationship between neighbors inside and outside of Naval Square becomes a bit strained from the walls as well, especially because the neighborhood is generally so safe.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of animosity towards Naval Square, but there’s a little animosity towards the people who live in Naval Square,” said Guth.
The neighborhood as a whole also demonstrates a higher number of individuals working in higher-paying jobs, which may be supporting the boom several of the businesses in the area have been experiencing in recent years.
City Data findings showed that Graduate Hospital’s median household income for 2011 was $56,572, while the rest of Philadelphia reflected a median household income of $34,207 for the same year.