Perspectives on Penn Street

How does modern construction mesh with local historic architecture? One corner of East Falls is finding out now… 

UPDATE 3-15-17: So far, most commenters on our Facebook page and the EFL site are none too happy. There’s even been some jabs from commenters on Philly websites, like Naked Philly.

From the street level of W Penn St the rowhomes do appear to be under the 38′ height limit, and I believe the height limit only has to be maintained on the primary facing street even if the side street slopes down. However, based on that Near Neighbor report I hate how they specifically asked for flat roofs and that upper-level setback, as if that is what makes for good complimentary architecture. Sloped roofs could have mimicked the forms on the neighboring rowhouses as a subtle nod while still maintaining a contemporary character.”

Not so fast, says Carolyn S. a neighbor on Penn Street and member of the near neighbors committee that negotiated with Jonas and Falso —

First, the height of the complex is, in fact less than 38′, and the front facades line up with the Tudors. Second, the majority of people thought the ‘fake mansard’ sloped roof shown in the original submittal was terrible (especially considering the substitution of new roofing materials for slate).  A majority also liked the 3rd floor setback, feeling that it created a better balance to the two story Tudors (the sloping “roof” being at 2nd, not 3rd story height). The majority of neighbors wanted these homes to say 2017….not 1927.”

Another neighbor agreed: “A sloped roof would basically create another ‘façade’ of the house and more facing area to the street. From street level on Penn St. the 3rd floor is not very apparent, the setback and flat roof helps a lot with that. I think the best way for them to be successful going forward is for them to stick to a dark color palette that doesn’t compete with the unique Tudor rowhomes.”

Despite the negative comments, it hasn’t stopped buyers – as of this writing the two end units were already sold…for $641K and $649K. A third was under contract.

Redeemer Church Update
Construction by Jonas’ crew in the Redeemer Church building continues at a quick pace but there has been one snag recently, according to John G. from the Facebook page “East Falls Rant You’re A$$ Off” – “They tried removing the big stained glass windows from the church, but they can’t because they were framed in metal beams built into the very walls of the building! So, most will remain. A few will be donated to the Falls Free Library to auction off in a fundraiser.” Thanks John!

UPDATE 3-8-17: recapped new construction at Redeemer. We also hear at least one of the townhouses may be under contract already…

UPDATE 2-25-17:  Recently-released MLS listings reveal asking prices from $599,900 to $649,000 for these 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath modern townhomes on Penn Street. (Thanks, Heather Petrone-Shook for this scoop we all wanted to know.)

Other details include great room entrances, walk-in closets, upper floor laundry, and eat-in kitchens. One side of both end homes feature large windows that create a “glass house” feel. Roof decks are engineered for jacuzzis, of course.

Construction actually appears to be slightly bigger than agreed-upon by the community: faces were supposed to be flush with existing homes, but instead it looks like they jut out about a foot and a half…? Could they be taller, too…?  Hmmmm…

We’re following some neighborhood rumblings, frankly, should be interesting to see how this shakes out. Meanwhile, renderings, floorplans, etc:

(Original post Feb 2, 2017)

Wow. On paper, these five townhomes hardly looked like much at all on Gary Jonas‘ plans for the former Redeemer Church property at Midvale & Conrad. As they’re going up, though… Wow.

Back in May when Gary was presenting to the community for zoning variances, neighbors expressed concern that four stories seemed tall for this stretch of Penn Street.

But no. Gary’s architects at How! Properties explained that they’re building into a slope so the first floor will be underground on that side.

Or something like that. Structural sleight of hand. We’ll hardly notice.

OK, now all five have been framed out. What do we think, Fallsers? 

I know, I know… they’re not done yet. But why should that stop us from weighing in? It’s only natural to want to dish on changes in your neighborhood. We’ll go first:

Wow. Those look biiiiiiiig.

Well, duh, right? I’m sure they’ll be fine — even nice! No matter what you think about the style that evolves, East Falls has weathered far worse, architecturally. Still, perhaps it’s a good time to look back on how we got here. So that moving forward, we’ll know what to expect as building continues throughout East Falls.

A quick recap: Redeemer Church “closed” (long story) and the property was vacant since 2009, then in 2016 it was purchased by How! Properties (who specializes in renovating historic buildings into residences). Although the church is over 100 years old, it has no formal “historical” designation to protect it, so Gary was a good choice to preserve this property from other developers who’d likely demo it entirely.

photo credit: Eric Weiss

Gary’s plan for Redeemer included 9 rental units in the old church building. He’d have created more apartments in the old school building that used to occupy Redeemer’s “backyard” on Penn Street, but the neighborhood wanted townhomes.

So Gary teamed with another local developer (Glenn Falso/Main Street Development) who tore down the (unremarkable) school and is now putting up the construction in these photos. FYI: this developer’s already built a lot of similar stuff in Roxborough — we’ll be adding to some pics to this post soon for comparison, stay tuned…

Meanwhile, heads up: Gary’s also moving ahead with a 136-unit apartment building where the old “Japanese Banquet Hall” used to be on Kelly — despite a nose-bop by Philly’s Civic Design Review (who thought his plans could connect better to the river & neighborhood).

Still, quite a few amenities for residents: a rooftop sundeck, outdoor kitchen, fire pit, bocce courts — plus a public parking lot that everyone can use. Gary’s working with East Falls Development Corporation, who hope to have variances approved by early Spring.

As always, we’ll keep you posted with zoning meeting recaps. Thanks for your interest in neighborhood development, btw. Please chime in on this post in the comments below (or email us and we can chat privately).


  1. I agree. Sure looks tall. dwarfing the church at the moment. But once the colors and façade are on, hopefully it will all tie in together.

    • Agreed! Framing always looks severe, I think. But wow what a startling change from every angle, no doubt it’ll just take some getting used to.

  2. It definitely looks tall. I’m hopeful they’ll do it right and make it look good.

    I am more concerned about how street parking will be impacted by all of these new units. Street parking is already atrocious on W Penn St. as it is, for those of us unlucky enough to be without a driveway. Sigh.

      • Definitely 2 car garages in the back, with the driveway entrance on Conrad. Aside from the lack of green / yard space, these look like they will be pretty baller. My hope is that the exterior materials will be a bit nicer than your standard new construction, given the adjacent properties.

        I don’t see how there is a parking concern for the apartments, given that there is a ton of underused non-permit parking from Midvale down to the train station. I can see these houses from my house on Conrad, and even with the construction right now parking is only really scarce later in the evening – having a permit helps in that regard. Sure, I get bummed when I can’t park in front of my house, but generally parking in EF is pretty easy.

    • The real estate listing says “delivery Summer 2017” so I guess that means they’ll be ready by summer?

  3. I wish the developer would have taken the surrounding architecture into consideration when designing and executing this project. I am a long time resident of Queen Lane and I am proud that this area of Midvale, Penn and Queen is on the historic register. The existing homes have character and charm….the new homes are monstrous and very much out of place. How could the city allow this?

    • It took 4 years to get these homes historically designated. Penn Street was one of the most charming blocks in East Falls. I can’t see how this construction benefits the unique architecture of the community

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