Old establishments meet new residential renovations here on the 1100 block of South 15th Street. On the northwest corner, a family deli called Melino’s has been serving up hoagies for generations.
“My grandfather started the business in the 1900’s,” said owner Mark Melino. “My Dad worked here, I worked here and my son worked here. We have been here a hundred years and I just don’t want to see it close up.”
Neighbors brag that Melino’s has the best hoagies in the city. There must be some truth to the claim, because a steady stream of customers line up for sandwiches at this unassuming eatery six days per week.
Across the street, Scotty’s Bar, another family owned business, recently celebrated 45 years of cold beers and hot soul food. Owner Juanita Floyd is known for her hearty Sunday dinners, while her trusty sidekick Elsie Nichols serves up lighter fare for the lunch crowd. The two women have seventy years of bartending experience between them, and they know how to keep the regulars in line. Quick-witted banter and an understanding smile go a long way with the mostly male crowd seated at the bar during the day.
“Scotty’s has come a long way with the years,” Floyd said. “When we first started, out we had houses. Then they got abandoned. Then they tore them down. Then in the last say, four or five years, they started building back up the neighborhood.”
On the southern end of the block is a beer distributor, a bodega and a take-out cheesesteak shop. A large auto body shop, currently for sale, dominates the east side of the street. The rest of the block features a mix of new construction and renovated rowhomes interspersed with dilapidated houses in need of repair. The West side has a vacant lot that where people dump trash.
On a recent spring day, contractor Mark Watts waited in front of a newly renovated rowhouse for a delivery of construction materials from C&R lumber.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for forty-five years,” he said. “It’s changed dramatically. It’s coming up. It seems to be making it better, as far as the people and stuff. Every time you turn around, it’s another house being remodeled.”
Mark’s boss, local landlord Dwayne Bynum, owns a dozen or so properties in the neighborhood. Bynum is a 30-year resident of Point Breeze and a loyal Eagles fan. He was wearing at least three items of Eagles clothing to unload drywall, lumber and insulation.
“The best change is that we are getting rid of the abandoned buildings,” said Bynum. “They are being fixed up, and it makes the neighborhood look a lot better. The worst change is the parking.”
The 1100 block of South 15th Street is sought after because it is less than one mile from Center City and one block away from the Ellsworth-Federal subway stop on the Broad Street line. Point Breeze is an ideal place for young professionals because the rents are lower and the apartments and houses are bigger than in Center City. The area is poised for a comeback. A study released in January by the Pew Charitable Trusts confirms a 6% increase in the number of 20 to 34 year-olds in the city of Philadelphia between 2006 to 2012. Trend forecasters predict Point Breeze will become the next Graduate Hospital, mainly due to an influx of millennials.
Bynum and Watts are in the final stages of renovating 1142 South 15th Street. They’ve installed new doors and windows, re-pointed the brick and added fresh paint to make this 19th century rowhome look brand new. The interior features new kitchens, baths, drywall and hardwood floors. House number 1142 is a good example of the changes taking place on the block. The property was purchased at sheriff’s sale in 1995 for $9,600 and is currently appraised by the city at $138,000.
A smaller multi-family unit on the block sold in October for $183,000, further proof that the block is poised for a real estate revival.
However, this block is still very much in transition. Homes a couple doors down from Bynum’s are in disrepair, with visible wood rot, sagging porches and front yards strewn with trash.
Upon completion of the renovations, Bynum hopes to rent the 600 square foot efficiency with a small private yard and air conditioning for $1200 per month. The two-bedroom loft is 1100 square feet and will be listed for $1700 per month. He acknowledges the spaces may rent for up to $200 less each. Can this dowdy block command such high prices?
Dre Downer, a University of the Arts dance major and new tenant at 1148 South 15th Street, is ok with the rents and the neighborhood.
“It’s not that bad,” said Downer. “I am always busy, so I am in and out. Its convenient. It’s only about a 15 to 20 minute walk to get to University of the Arts.”
Adrian Cook moved from Germantown to the 1100 hundred block of South 15th street.
“My church is at 21st and Mifflin, so its just basically (for the) convenience,” he said. “Peace, no violence, comfortability, as much quietness as I can get.”
Both the new residents cited convenience as their first priority when looking for a place to live, quality of life was the second most important factor.
Old and new residents are in agreement that the block, although a little rough around the edges, is a great place to live.
“South Philly, it’s pretty interesting,” Downer said. “Very chill, very diverse. A lotta love. The neighbors are very cool.”
– Text, video and images by Jad Sleiman and Jessica Griffin.