University City High School site demolition continues; plans still unclear

Posted on 29 January 2015


University City High School site purchased by Drexel (Click to enlarge).

Demolition of the former University City High School building is scheduled to begin in late February, but it is still unclear what Drexel University, which purchased the site from the school district last year, and their partner, Wexford, plan to do with the site.

Drexel had originally indicated that it hoped to build, among other things, a new public school on the site, which would help ease the sting felt by local residents from losing the high school and Charles Drew Elementary, which sat on the same 14-acre site. Demolition of Drew started earlier this month, and the Walnut Center has already been demolished.

“We are continuing our efforts to engage the community on the vision and plans to transform this site,” said Drexel spokesperson Niki Gianakaris.

She said the university plans to create a “mixed-use environment where the community and private sector will come together in a work, live and play environment.”


Charles Drew Elementary demolition underway (Photo by Marina Krikorian).

Demolition is expected to be complete later this year, she said, adding that plans for the site had not been finalized.

As part of its bid to buy the property from the School District of Philadelphia last February, Drexel presented a plan during a public meeting that included an enlarged Powel Elementary School and a middle school on the site.

The plan also included residential housing and retail space.

The plan met with some skepticism among residents of the Mantua neighborhood, where many University City High School students lived. Several Powelton Village neighborhood residents who attended that meeting last February voiced approval of the possible expansion of Powel Elementary.

Mike Lyons

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License plate stolen off parked car near 44th and Pine (updated)

Posted on 29 January 2015

A neighbor reports that someone recently stole a license plate from her car parked near 44th and Pine. She didn’t notice until cops pulled her over the next day. Here’s what she wrote us:

“I’m not sure if this is happening elsewhere around the neighborhood, but my license plate was stolen off my vehicle [Tuesday] night (after 7 pm), while parked on the 4400 block of Pine. I found out when I was pulled over this morning, and had to visit the station to make a police report, and now get a new plate. It’s not a huge expense, but definitely a hassle just the same…”

This type of theft used to be really popular, but not so much anymore, according to police.

And here’s an example of why plates get stolen (from a Facebook post by one of our readers):


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Public Open House tonight on 30th St Station area development plan

Posted on 28 January 2015

Some changes are being planned for 30th Street Station and the area surrounding it, and if you’re interested to learn more about the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan, come to an open house at the station this Wednesday, from 4 to 7 p.m. The project team will be there to present the plan and answer your questions, including how you can get involved in the planning process. Some information boards will also be at the station for everyone to check out (see the flier below for more details about tonight’s event).

The 30th Street Station District Plan is a joint effort among Amtrak, Drexel University, SEPTA, and Brandywine Realty trust, and other public and private stakeholders. The Master Planning process involves three main elements of analysis: transportation, the station and associated facilities, and commercial opportunities. The planning process is expected to take about two years.


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Have extra Recyclebank points? Donate them to local schools

Posted on 28 January 2015

If you’re a Recyclebank member (you accrue points through that sticker on recycling receptacle) and you have some extra points you don’t need, why not consider donating them to a local school? Two West Philly schools have been selected to participate in Recyclebank’s 2014-2015 Green Schools Program, which supports schoolchildren and educators’ efforts on making their schools and schoolyards greener. Recyclebank will turn the donated points into cash to fund the projects.

LeaHenry C. Lea Elementary (47th and Locust) is seeking support for their Rain Gardens project. “Lea students will be involved in the maintenance of the rain gardens and become active environmental stewards,” reads Lea’s message on the Recyclebank website. “The rain gardens will be used as focal point for environmental instruction at the school with regards to the water cycle and systems.” The rain gardens project is a part of the Greening Lea project. To read more about the project and to donate your points, go here. The school will receive $2,500 from Recyclebank if the goal is reached.

Belmont Charter School (40th and Brown) students have a chance to learn about growing plants and trees through its “Belmont Sprouts” program. The school is raising funds to build six raised beds, buy a fruit tree and several rain barrels. The funds from the Recyclebank program will help “complete the construction of our Belmont Sprouts garden and to host a special Mother’s Day Spring Planting event,” according to the project description. To read more about the project and to donate your points, go here. Belmont Charter will also receive $2,500 from Recyclebank for their project if the goal is reached.


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Keep an eye out for two missing persons in West Philly

Posted on 27 January 2015

Police are asking for the community’s help to find two people who went missing in West Philly this week.


Ashjakia Washington (from the Philly Police Blog). Click to enlarge.

Ashjakia Washington, 25, of the 5500 block of Chancellor Street was last seen at 5 p.m. on Jan. 22 on the 5300 block of Rising Sun Avenue.

According to police, Ashjakia is 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 80 pounds, with a very thin build, brown eyes, a medium brown complexion and short auburn/brown braids. She was last seen wearing light blue jeans with pink strings on sides, a black head scarf, and puffy turquoise hooded jacket.


Otero Guillermo (from the Philly Police Blog). Click to enlarge.

Otero Guillermo, 69, is missing from his residence on the 4800 block of Pine Street. Otero is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 203 pounds, with brown eyes, and gray hair. He was last seen wearing a red coat with black shoulders, blue pants, and brown sandals. He is also missing a part of his finger on his right hand.

Police say Otero suffers from chronic mental illness, paranoid Schizophrenia, and diabetes.

Mike Lyons

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Public schools, city offices closed Tuesday due to snow storm (updated)

Posted on 26 January 2015

All public and Archdiocesan schools in Philadelphia will be closed on Tuesday, Jan. 27 due to the snow storm, and all after-school activities are canceled, according to the city government and School District of Philadelphia announcements released Monday night. City offices and courts will also be closed.

UPDATE: The latest estimate for snowfall during the overnight storm is 2 to 4 inches.

Stay tuned for more weather-related announcements.


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Snow emergency declared; no trash collection Tuesday (updated)

Posted on 26 January 2015

UPDATE (8:35 p.m.): Mayor Nutter’s announcement on whether schools and city offices will be closed tomorrow is coming up at around 10:00 p.m. Stay tuned. The winter storm is expected to intensify overnight, according to Accuweather.

A snow emergency has been declared in the city beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday. If you parked your car on any of the snow emergency routes, please move it before 6 p.m.. Here are snow emergency routes in West Philadelphia:

• Chestnut Street from Cobbs Creek Parkway to 20th Street
• Walnut Street from Broad Street to Cobbs Creek Parkway
• Woodland Avenue from Cobbs Creek Parkway to University Avenue
• 34th Street from University Avenue to Grays Ferry Avenue
• 38th Street from Walnut to University Avenue
• 63rd Street from City Avenue to Walnut Street
• University Avenue from 38th Street to 34th Street
• Island Avenue from Woodland Avenue to Enterprise Avenue
• Cobbs Creek Parkway from Walnut Street to Woodland Avenue
• Schuylkill Avenue from Market Street to Walnut Street

If your vehicle remains on one of these streets it will be ticketed and towed. If your car is towed, call 215-686-SNOW to find out where it was taken.

The city has also cancelled trash and recycling pick-up on Tuesday. If your trash collection day is Tuesday please keep your trash and recyclables until next Tuesday.

UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): SEPTA has announced that Market-Frankford and Broad Street Line train service will operate all night:

Here are some more snow and cold weather-related reminders:

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A meeting Monday for community input on the big 4224 Baltimore Ave. project (UPDATE: cancelled due to snow)

Posted on 26 January 2015

UPDATE (1/26/2015): Monday’s SHCA Zoning Committee meeting has been cancelled due to the inclement weather. The meeting will be rescheduled for sometime in mid-February, according to Spruce Hill zoning committee chair Barry Grossbach. Stay tuned for more information.

The Spruce Hill Community Association (SHCA) will be holding a Zoning Committee meeting on Monday, Jan. 26 to consider the widely discussed residential and commercial project at 4224 Baltimore Avenue.

4224proposedbuildingAs a reminder, the development team for 4224 Baltimore Avenue has applied for zoning to get the city’s approval to construct a 132-unit residential complex at the site. The project evolved from a series of neighborhood meetings and was discussed at an open meeting of Spruce Hill zoning last spring. Now that a formal application has been made, the project development team, U3 Advisors, are required to have public meetings with neighbors through community associations.

The zoning meeting will be held at the SHCA headquarters at 257 S. 45th Street, starting at 7 p.m. All interested neighbors and residents are welcome to attend.

At this meeting, you can also learn about The Fresh Grocer’s application for the right to sell beer under conditions specified in its lease agreement with the University of Pennsylvania.

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Schools closing early, after-school programs canceled Monday due to snow

Posted on 25 January 2015

Philadelphia schools will close at 12 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 26, due to heavy snow and strong wind in the forecast for the area, the Philadelphia School District has announced. All after-school activities, including all athletic programs and professional development classes, are canceled for the day.

An estimated 6 to 12 inches of snow is expected in the Philadelphia area, according to Please stay tuned for more weather-related announcements and alerts as the city is preparing for the first major snowstorm this winter.


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Public school breakfast, lunch menu (Jan. 26-30)

Posted on 25 January 2015

Here’s what will be served at local schools on Monday, Jan. 26 through Friday, Jan. 30. If your school uses a Satellite menu, click here.

Come back every Sunday evening for the coming week’s menu.


A variety of three cereals will be offered daily and served with a yogurt parfait or a mini loaf.


Choose 1: Mini Waffles or Bake Crafter Cereal Bar & Yogurt
Choose 1: Pineapple Juice or Fresh Pear
Variety of Milk


Choose 1: Steak, Egg & Cheese on a Bagel or Benefit Bar
Choose 1: Mixed Fruit Cup or Fresh Apple
Variety of Milk  Continue Reading

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U.S. Marshals, cops catch the Rite Aid robber

Posted on 23 January 2015

Police say that the U.S. Marshals and Philadelphia law enforcement officers have apprehended a 49-year-old man they say robbed several West Philadelphia businesses, including several Rite Aid stores and the McDonald’s at 52nd and Chestnut.

Cartel Wright was arrested at about 2 a.m. on Friday on the 2100 block of College Avenue in North Philadelphia after a struggle with Marshals.

Police say Wright’s crime spree began in late September when he robbed a Rite Aid on City Avenue. Wright is a suspect in the following robberies:

September 30, 2014, at 5:18 a.m., Rite Aid located at 5000 block, City Avenue
• December 18, 2014, at 2:00 a.m., Rite Aid located at 5000 block, City Avenue
• December 18, 2014, at 7:20 p.m., Rite Aid located at 5200 block, Baltimore Avenue
• December 27, 2014, at 5:25 a.m., Rite Aid located at 5000 block, City Avenue
• December 28, 2014, at 9:50 p.m., CVS located at 7500 block, City Avenue
• January 1, 2015, at 4:35 p.m., Family Dollar located at 5800 block, Woodland Avenue
• January 11, 2015, at 3:45 p.m., Rite Aid located at 5440 Lansdowne Avenue. The suspect then carjacks a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser from the parking lot after leaving the Rite Aid. The vehicle was later recovered on the 1400 block of North 56th Street.
• January 11, 2015, 5:25 p.m., McDonald’s located at 7500 City Avenue
• January 12, 2015, at 5:30 a.m., McDonald’s located at 5200 Chestnut Street

Mike Lyons

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Shuttle buses to replace Route 34 Trolley on Sunday, Jan. 25

Posted on 23 January 2015

34BusShuttle buses will replace Route 34 Trolley on Sunday, Jan. 25, due to overhead wire work, SEPTA has announced. Shuttle bus operation will begin at 2 a.m. Sunday and will continue throughout the day, until the end of service.

SEPTA has posted the following advisory for the route:

Westbound Service (towards 61st St. & Baltimore Ave.):

Customers should board Trolleys in the Tunnel and transfer to the Route 34 Shuttle Bus at 40th St. Portal for service towards 61st St. and Baltimore Ave.

Eastbound Service (towards 13th & Market Sts.):

Customers should exit the Route 34 Shuttle Bus at 40th St. Portal and transfer to Trolleys for service towards 13th & Market Sts.

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Demolition of former University City High School site has begun

Posted on 22 January 2015


The demolition of Charles Drew Elementary School has begun. Photo by Marina Krikorian.

Demolition work has begun on buildings at University City High School site, which was purchased by Drexel University last year. The 14-acre property, which also includes the shuttered Charles Drew Elementary School building (pictured), was acquired from the School District of Philadelphia last summer. Drexel’s nearly $1 billion development plan for the location includes construction of a K-8 public school surrounded by residential, retail, and recreational space. The construction project, led by Drexel University City Development, LLC, is expected to create 4,300 construction jobs, and to house 3,700 employees after its completion.

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Funeral services this week for 14-year-old stabbing victim Nafis O’Neal

Posted on 22 January 2015

Nafis O’Neil (photo from Twitter).

Funeral services for Nafis O’Neal, the 14-year-old who died after being stabbed by a schoolmate on Jan. 16, are scheduled for Saturday. Nafis has been remembered this week by family, friends and neighbors as a respectful young man who was eager to help other people.

A freshman at West Philadelphia High School, Nafis was raised by his grandmother on the 3800 block of Haverford Avenue. Friends and family gathered on Monday evening for a vigil on the block near 46th and Market where he died when a 16-year-old student stabbed him once in the chest in what appears to be the continuation of a fight that started earlier in the day at the West Philly High cafeteria.

Police say they found a knife and bloody clothing at the suspect’s home on the 3800 block of Haverford Avenue. The 16-year-old was arrested within hours of the stabbing and was charged with homicide and related charges earlier this week. We are not releasing his name because of his age. It is unclear whether he will be tried as an adult.

Morgan Zalot of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote a nice tribute to Nafis here, including words from his aunt.

Nafis was riding his bike when he was killed. He spent a lot of time at Neighborhood Bike Works, the West Philly-based non-profit that helps kids develop leadership skills and responsibility through repairing and riding bikes. The organization tweeted photos of Nafis yesterday:


The viewing for Nafis will be held at St. Jude Baptist Church at 632 N. 38th Street on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Arrangements are being made through Mitchum-Wilson Funeral Home.

Mike Lyons

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Free community tax filing sites open Monday, Jan. 26

Posted on 21 January 2015

freetaxprepTax season is here, and here’s some useful information for those who didn’t make a lot of money last year and need help filing their taxes. Starting Monday, Jan. 26, and through April 15, 2015, 20 free tax sites managed by the Campaign for Working Families will be open throughout Philadelphia. The sites will be offering free tax preparation and e-filing services to families who earned less than $53,000 in 2014 and to individuals with an income under $20,000.

Here are the locations of free community tax sites in West and Southwest Philadelphia:

West Philadelphia

Drexel University Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, 3509 Spring Garden (wheelchair accessible)
Monday & Wednesday 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Friday 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Continue Reading

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Furness-designed church at 47th and Kingsessing saved from demolition

Posted on 20 January 2015

Church 1

The Frank Furness-designed church buildings at 47th and Kingsessing were days away from demolition but are now undergoing renovation. (Photos by Mike Lyons / West Philly Local)

Renovation has begun on the 114-year-old Frank Furness-designed church at 47th and Kingsessing to convert it to commercial space that will likely house schools and save it from demolition.

The church building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that neighbors feared it may collapse. The City agreed and condemned the building, erected a chain-link fence and “cleaned” and “sealed” the building last June. Demolition seemed days away, but a local landlord, a historic preservationist and former Mayor Wilson Goode Sr. joined forces to convince the city to allow it to be sold and renovated.

After attempts to persuade the Department of Licenses and Inspections to remove the demolition decree didn’t work, Guy Laren, who owns several properties in West Philadelphia, and Penn historic preservation professor Aaron Wunsch asked for some help from Goode, who is chair of Partners for Sacred Spaces.

“What ultimately saved the church was Aaron’s unwillingness to give up,” said Laren by e-mail, who bought the main church building and the adjacent parish building.

church 2

The “Parish House” building adjacent to the main church building.

Laren said Wunsch boarded up windows to keep scrappers out and then courted Goode, who helped usher the purchase through the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

“The skies suddenly cleared,” said Laren.

They now have time to do the necessary repairs to shore up the church and hopefully satisfy L and I. Laren said he attracted two tenants, both schools, to occupy the space.

“I have two excellent potential tenants for most of the space inside the church,” he said. “Hopefully their tenancies will allow me to pay to renovate and restore the church.”

“If everything works out as I hope, there will be some additional space in the sanctuary that I can try to build out as either residential apartments or some other commercial use.”

The church’s latest tenant was the small congregation of St. Peter’s Church of Christ, which had occupied the church since 1979 and was reluctant to consider leasing the space to help pay for renovations.

Mike Lyons

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Public school breakfast, lunch menu (Jan. 20-23)

Posted on 19 January 2015

Here’s breakfast and lunch menu for Tuesday, Jan. 20 – Friday, Jan. 23. If your school uses a Satellite menu, click here.

Come back on Sunday evening for next week’s menu.


A variety of three cereals will be offered daily and served with a yogurt parfait or a mini loaf.


Choose 1: Mini French Toast or Cinnamon Granola Round
Choose 1: Raisins or Fresh Apple
Variety of Milk 


Choose 1: Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Bagel or Appleways Bar
Choose 1: Orange Juice or Fresh Banana
Variety of Milk  Continue Reading

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Large sinkhole on 4600 block of Spruce (updated)

Posted on 18 January 2015

UPDATE (1/24/2015): A week later…

(1/19/2015): As of 8:25 p.m. on Monday, the sinkhole is still there. The cars that had been caught in it have been pulled out. We didn’t see any Streets Department crews working there when we stopped by on Monday night. Although the hole, which is on the eastbound lane, hasn’t been fixed, the block reopened to traffic (you have to get in the westbound lane to go around it). What makes it even more dangerous is that the hole is very close to the 46th and Spruce intersection. Please be careful when driving or biking on that block.

A large sinkhole opened up on the 4600 block of Spruce Street on Sunday under two cars parked on the block. A reader, Phil Gentry, tweeted this photo at around 4 p.m.


Photo by Phil Gentry.

The street surface there had problems over the weekend, and the Streets Department crews continued working on the block. A water main break closed the block to traffic on Saturday, and there was no water supply to nearby homes for several hours.

A police tow truck began pulling two cars off the edge of the hole at about 8:30 p.m.. The block is closed to all traffic and the Route 42 bus is on detour until 12 p.m. on Monday.


Photos by Mike Lyons / West Philly Local.


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Woman robbed at gunpoint near 49th and Spruce, two arrests made

Posted on 16 January 2015

A 29-year-old woman was robbed at gunpoint by two or three males on the 4900 block of Spruce Street Friday night, according to police. The robbery happened at around 8:15 p.m. The men took the woman’s phone, according to police. The woman was not injured. Police say that later they arrested two suspects near 50th and Larchwood and recovered the stolen items and a BB gun.


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