PEEK INSIDE: a converted riverside textile mill, a grand Jacobean Revival manor & artsy lofts by moody rails. Comparing one-bedroom rentals with local character.
Although recent reports suggest 2015 is THE year to buy a home, many Millennials seem reluctant to bite the bullet. Housing & job markets are ridiculously volatile, why gamble if you don’t have to? It’s a rather “European” thing to do: Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland… in many countries, people rent their whole lives, and simply don’t share our “white picket fence” daydreams.
Buying a home is a huge amount of hassle & expense, and owning one requires constant upkeep — with no guarantee of a return on your investment. As Steve and I roll towards our 50’s, we’re wondering if maybe we want even less responsibility than our one-bedroom-plus-den unit in Gypsy Lane Condos requires. Which is, to be honest, very little.
The condo association here (and the management company they hire) takes care of the roof, the stairways, the sidewalks, the landscaping, the driveways, the pool, the fitness center… But anything on the inside is still us: windows, heating & a/c, plumbing, etc.
Not a bad situation, but the place is really generic, just your typical boxy 1970’s apartments. And while it’s nice to be out by the park, might be fun to feel a little closer to what’s doing, in a home with a touch more architectural character.
We looked at three comparable $1700 – $2000/month one-bedroom, pet-friendly historic rental options in East Falls: Dobson Mills, Alden Park & Sherman Mills.
We also kinda-sorta checked out Scotts Mills but since they’re an “off-shoot” of Sherman Mills (located in the same complex) with very similar units we decided to streamline things here. Basically, what applies to Sherman Mills goes for Scotts, so if you like what you read about Sherman put Scotts on your list, too.
By the way all the Mills are pretty close to each other, even though Dobson feels more like urban townhomes on Ridge (and there’s no cut-thru between the properties).
Of course we started our research with Yelp first and… yeesh, no one is safe. From “Worst place ever!” to “horrible place to live” even a “flat out STOLE our security deposit!” Apparently, Yelp is where people with management grievances go to vent. That’s one of the down sides of apartment living: dealing with offices, mail rooms, memos, deposits, paperwork, etc.
And parking! Both Alden Park and Dobson Mills are gated communities, and each place has its own rules about where to park & how many vehicles you can have (and what kind). And each has it’s own rigmarole for signing in guests, something we’re used to from Gypsy Lane which also has a guard house.
So let’s start with the 1920’s Jacobean Revival towers that make up Alden Park Manor, at the corner of Schoolhouse Lane & Wissahickon Avenues.
Some might argue whether this is, technically, East Falls or Germantown but historically, at least, it’s been connected to our area. And real estate websites list the neighborhoods as “East Falls, Parkland & Upper North Philadelphia” so… that’s good enough for us. Wherever it is, Alden Park its own tony compound. A resident’s memoir is like a snapshot of upper-middle class local life in the 1930’s.
Alden Park is all about glamor & history. Even on a rainy evening, walking into the leasing entrance the view was amazing. And the lobby! Piano, fireplace, chess table… Why is this not the snootiest bar in town?
The opulence continued when we entered the first one-bedroom they showed us — those amazing leaded-glass windows make a ridiculously dramatic living space.
Unfortunately, they were also really cold! Since Alden Park is a registered National Historic Place, there’s apparently a limit to how much weather-proofing can be done (?). As we walked the grounds, we saw lots of these dramatic bay windows and French doors with heavy blinds or that plastic shrink-wrap on ’em: DIY insulation because these historic windows need to be preserved no matter how drafty they are.
While some units boast marble fireplaces and sweeping panoramas, the apartments we saw were rather modest, although there was no lack of retro-charm: molding, glass doorknobs, economic use of space.
And OMG THE POOL!!!! The pool the pool the pool the pool!!!!
Like Disney designed a pool for Esther Williams to play an Egyptian mermaid. Or something like that. Go. See. This. Pool. Truly amazing.
And so are the grounds, and pretty much all the common spaces we saw at Alden Park. Kinda makes up for the “meh” apartments available here in our price range. UPDATE 3-11-16: Alden Park is undergoing $60 MILLION in upgrades, including a dog park and an outdoor pool with gourmet kitchen.
Next, we’ve got Dobson Mills on Ridge Avenue — originally an old Civil War textiles plant! The Dobson brothers, John & James, were all over East Falls in the 1800’s and the family remained a big influence here until the last of them, Bessie Dobson, moved away. Rumor even has it they lived in what’s now known as “Hohenadel Mansion” on Indian Queen Lane (that’s so far been disproved via census records). Anyway, their historic mill here at 4055 Ridge has been totally gutted & converted into luxury apartments.
While the look is decidedly “urban townhome,” you can still feel the structure’s industrial bones. Dobson Mills’ leasing office gleamed with light & mirrors in contrast to the building’s long beige corridors. Super-high ceilings!
In refurbishing this huge building into separate units, the designers chose to highlight architectural anomalies with lighting, molding, coffered ceilings, etc. The apartments we saw felt solid & comfortable.
Common areas were quiet, clean & attractively maintained. Bummer about all the empty retail space (an unfortunate zoning requirement that might be changing soon) UPDATE 2016: we lost the cleaners but gained Mellow Massage — plus “Coming Soon” signs for a salon and a physical therapy office. UPDATE 2017: All the commercial space here has been rented, woot!
Lastly, the funky-artsy units available in the warren-like, mixed-use, converted complex that is Sherman Mills (once a part of Dobson’s empire).
As mentioned earlier, the newly-established “Scotts Mills” offer pretty much the same living experience. The two are so similar & proximate they could understandably confuse bloggers who fail to read signs.
These one-of-a-kind apartments are not for everyone, but they make my heart go pitter-pat. Bold, colorful architectural details, the feeling everywhere is sunny, natural, organic and… cobbled together. Definitely this place is about rough edges!
The designers here clearly had no intention of smoothing out the old mills’ industrial roots, and in fact celebrate them. You’ll see exposed brick, built-in room-dividers/closets, private little patios and quirky touches that’ll either make you smile or wonder about telescoping dust mops, depending on your personality. Furnishing must be challenging but there’s lots of potential to get creative.
While not big on amenities, Sherman Mills houses lots of interesting businesses, including an incredible whole-foods bakery, CrossFit (nearby), a massage & yoga spot, a glass blowing studio, hair stylists, artists spaces… Too many to mention, really, and the roster keeps going.
There’s also a small private dog park on-site, as well as a fine doggie daycare the next block over.
SO ARE WE MOVING? Remains to be seen, there’s a lot to mull over, still. Meanwhile, we’ll keep this review handy for reference — and offer it here for anyone else contemplating a move to Historic East Falls.
If you’re going to move, I’m voting Sherman Mills. For selfish reasons! 🙂
You may want to check the Scotts Mills portion. I know when the new owners took over the property because of Sherman financial issues, they spent some money on improving conditions. It is why the Glassworks was closed for so long as Sherman had neglected the building.
(Sherman also lost the former DVHS property at the same time.)
Indeed, we had a look at Scotts when we showed up for our Sherman Mills appointment, d’oh. They couldn’t give us a tour but they briefed us and we had a glance and stand by our opinion that they’re pretty similar but if you have more pics/info we’d certainly add some follow-up.