Two Dedicated Community Leaders Gift Seed Money for Continued Beautification of Trolley Portal Gardens

Jan 27, 2020 5 months ago

Trolley Portal Gardens, our public space located at the intersections of 40th and Baltimore, received a huge boost this winter thanks to a $100,000 donation from longtime neighbors and community leaders Barry Grossbach and Mike Hardy. The money will establish an endowment for the continued beautification of the space, including upkeep of the flower mounds and planters, and Barry and Mike are hopeful their example will inspire other members of the community to contribute as well.

Whether or not you know Barry and Mike, if you live in Spruce Hill or the surrounding neighborhoods, you’ve definitely experienced their impact. They have been making a difference in University City since moving to the neighborhood in 1970, serving as leaders in various organizations including UC Green, Baltimore in Bloom, the University City Historical Society, and here at University City District.

“What we decided early on,” says Barry about his and Mike’s service in the neighborhood, “Is because we were both interested in community work based upon our own experiences, there was no reason for us to be duplicating efforts by being involved in the same kinds of things. He was very interested in greening, and I was very interested in saving cities.”

In fact, this interest in urban development and perseverance is a major reason that UCD exists at all. Barry helped lead a trial project to offer neighborhood cleaning services in the 90s. Though short-lived, the program caught the attention of the University of Pennsylvania, who felt the results of the trial proved that a special services group could succeed in the neighborhood. A few years and many discussions later, University City District was formed with Barry as one of the original board members, a position he still holds today.

A few years into the start of the 2000s, when UCD’s cleaning and safety services were running smoothly, the UCD board began considering what other major projects they could undertake. “We started talking about doing something over at the Portal,” Barry says. “It was just a big space, and not attractive, and unutilized.” They flirted with the idea of a trolley museum at the site, or a restaurant. Plans were developed, and then shelved, and then resurrected by Barry and Andrew Wheeler, another devoted neighbor.

“It operated in fits and starts,” says Barry, “But it was always an area that we knew should be developed, that something positive could happen there and should happen there.” Investing in the Trolley Portal also fit into the larger desire to improve the 40th Street corridor between Market Street and Baltimore.

While discussions and plans were underway for a big overhaul of the Trolley Portal, Mike was actively working to beautify the surrounding area with a group called Baltimore Avenue in Bloom. They received permission from SEPTA to plant flowers and trees along the side of the tunnel that runs from 39th Street to the Portal, and arranged cleanups as well. When the trees along Baltimore Avenue died, Mike and Barry made a financial contribution to have them replaced.

The transformation of the Trolley Portal took years of coordination between UCD, planners, developers, the City, SEPTA, and neighbors, and was finally completed in the fall of 2018. “It turned out, from my perspective anyway, better than I had anticipated,” Barry says. “When people come out of a tunnel and they see attractive plantings, it says that people respect the area and the people who live there. I think that’s important. The Trolley Portal is a statement. It’s a gateway. It says something about how people regard University City.”

It’s for that reason that he and Mike decided to gift UCD the money to help with its upkeep. “People appreciate public spaces here,” Barry says. “This is a neighborhood where people do gardening, they have garden plots, they plant trees—so people would understand that. This [gift] is designed to create a fund that will sustain this public space. Our objective was always to put monies into areas that would benefit public spaces that people could appreciate and that would beautify the neighborhood.”

We cannot thank Barry and Mike enough for their support over the years. If you, too, would like to contribute to our efforts at the Portal or in the rest of the community, you can join the hundreds of your neighbors in supporting UCD by making a tax-deductible donation using the form below, or online at


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