PHILADELPHIA BUSINESS JOURNAL • $4.5M project to create 40th Street Trolley Portal Gardens complete

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Originally published by the Philadelphia Business Journal

$4.5M project to create 40th Street Trolley Portal Gardens complete


After what Matt Bergheiser, president of University City District, described as an 8-year journey, a $4.5 million redevelopment of the 40th Street Trolley Portal in University City is complete. And the result a much better version of its former self.

For decades, the trolley portal at Woodland and Baltimore avenues was a bare concrete stamp despite its location in a residential neighborhood and its status as a busy transit hub. Under the leadership of University City District, stakeholders including SEPTA, neighbors and the city convened to create a new vision for the parcel. Once in place, fundraising ensued.

Now planters, trees, gardens, seating and a new Trolley Car Station restaurant have revived a once desolate spot. 

The project took something that was simply utilitarian and, without eliminating or concealing it, created an inviting, social environment that, as Nathan F. Hummel, director of planning and design at UCD said, also shows someone cares. The project incorporated some of the lessons UCD has learned over the years from its other placemaking activities, like the Porch at 30th Street Station.

To that end, different seating areas were incorporated into the space including cafe chairs and tables, tiered boulders and benching. The hope is that by providing multiple areas and a variety of seating, social interaction will be promoted among strangers who might be visiting the gardens. The space is also inviting for young children who can jump from the rocks or play with the tiny pebbles that carpet the main seating area. The gardens are not just meant to be pleasing for those who are coming on and off of a trolley, but also for those who are passing through while remaining on the trolley.

Another lesson was incorporating food, which can draw people in and serve as a unifying factor as well. “Great spaces call for lingering and food can cause people to linger,” Bergheiser said. 

Ken Weinstein, of Philly Office Retail and the Trolley Car Diner, recalled standing at the portal on a freezing day for 20 minutes to determine whether bringing a restaurant to the location made sense. Weinstein was convinced to take a chance after watching a constant stream of pedestrian and vehicular traffic move through the immediate area. A new, 2-story, 5,000-square-foot building was developed for the restaurant that seats 200 people. It is staffed with 50 employees. 

That $2.5 million restaurant project opened early September with a menu that Weinstein described as comfort food with an international flare, a refrigerator case filed with 300 beers and six that are on tap. Two painted murals on the second floor incorporate different historical figures and aspects of the neighborhood.

“Business was nice and slow at first but when we put the open sign up, it got busy,” Weinstein said

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