Olde Kensington Experiences a Dramatic Renaissance
The Olde Kensington neighborhood, in North Philadelphia, is one of Philadelphia’s classic industrial neighborhoods, with its industrial heritage dating back to the early nineteenth century. Olde Kensington (also known as South Kensington) is roughly north of Girard Avenue and Northern Liberties, and east of Fishtown and the Market/Frankford line over Front Street and Kensington Avenue. It blends in with the Ludlow neighborhood, east of Temple University and Yorktown. South Kensington has factory buildings and rowhomes dating back to the early nineteenth century.
Kensington was named after an upscale part of London, in hopes of attracting wealthy Philadelphians to the rural area north of Northern Liberties in the early 1800s. However, it’s location along the busy industrial waterfront made it the prime location for nineteenth century industry. Kensington had factories making rope and twine, furniture, textiles, clothing, paper, soap, processed foods, beer, and even Stetson Hats. Later, rail lines were added and brought coal from northern Pennsylvania, which was used for steel production and heavy industry, such as manufacturing of ships, rail cars and locomotives, machinery, tools, and even automobile parts. At one time, Kensington was at the heart of the Workshop of the World, which Philadelphia was known as at one time, when about a third of all the United States’ manufactured items were made in Philadelphia. As time went by, much of that industry moved further up to places like Northeast Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as, out of the region. While some manufacturing remained in Kensington, most of the factory buildings were either used for warehousing or left vacant and derelict. Many of the rowhomes and tenements in Olde Kensington were left vacant, too. Much of the old vacant buildings were demolished, leaving many vacant lots. American Street once had several multi-story factory buildings, and today only one of them remains. The once thriving shopping districts on Germantown, Girard, and Kensington Avenues, and Front Street, declined or largely disappeared.
In recent years, though, Olde Kensington has seen new development and energy and today is one of the fastest growing, and fastest developing, neighborhoods in the city. Artists, and other creative types, started moving into the neighborhood in the 2000s, looking for abundant and affordable loft-style studio and office space. Early developments, such as the Crane Arts Building on American Street and The Boom Room for musicians to practice, helped bring many of those artists, designers, and musicians to the neighborhood. Neighborhood clean-ups through the Street Administration’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and the building of the Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts improved the quality of life and the rebuilding of the Market/Frankford Line improved connections to Center City. The development of The Piazza at Schmidt’s, and other Northern Liberties and Fishtown development, helped encourage development in Olde Kensington because of its affordability and proximity to the new retail and restaurants of those neighboring communities. Furthermore, Ludlow has seen massive redevelopment with the La Pradera homes and the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Ludlow Homes scattered-site rental development. Olde Kensington is now so popular with creative residents and companies, that developers are catering to that demographic. Soko Lofts and Liberty Square will have live/work loft-style spaces and loft-style office and studio spaces on the first floor, along with artist gallery spaces on American Street. Techadelphia is another development on American Street which will have high-tech loft-style office and studio space, with live/work apartments above. Remaining factory buildings are being renovated, too, such as the Oxford Mills development on Front Street and the landmark Umbrella Factory (formerly the Stetson Hat Factory) at 5th Street and Montgomery Avenue. But, Olde Kensington is seeing new townhome development, such as the luxury Mascher Court homes on the 1500 block of North Mascher Street. The Mascher Street townhomes will consist of seventeen three story, three bedroom homes with modern facades and deeded parking. To find out more about the Mascher Street homes, you can check out their website at maschercourt.com.
It’s clear that Olde Kensington is new again with all the recent and planned development. It remains to be seen what the neighborhood will look like in coming years as vacant land and buildings continue to be development and property values increase. Olde Kensington is turning into one of the most desirable neighborhoods in central Philadelphia, with both a great quality of life and affordable, but rising, home values making the purchase of a new home in Olde Kensington a great investment.
By, Gabriel Gottlieb