Town By Town: Neighborhood offers quiet charm, with hustle and bustle nearby
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
A review on the social-media site Yelp describes Fitler Square as "perfect for nighttime strolls and pensive reflections."
Valid views not just at night, but 24/7 these days in a place that 50 years ago was a hangout for vagrants and others you wouldn't have wanted to meet in a dark alley.
Yet in the early 1960s, residents enamored of what recent buyer Jacoba Zaring called the "endless charm" of the neighborhood banded together as the Fitler Square Improvement Association and began the long and ultimately successful process of turning it into one of Philadelphia's most sought-after addresses.
"I think there are more strollers in Fitler Square than just about anywhere else in the city," says developer Carl Dranoff, who turned the old National Publishing Co. on South 25th Street into 152 loft-apartments called Locust on the Park in the mid-1990s and is proposing a 21-story residential tower on the triangular parking lot across the street from it.
Since 2001, Realtor/mortgage broker Fred Glick has lived here, in what he calls "RittFit" because of its proximity to Rittenhouse Square (and because the borders of city neighborhoods are notoriously indistinct).
"When I get back at 1 a.m. from hockey games, the sidewalks all over the neighborhood are filled with people walking their dogs," says Glick, who recently moved his business operations there, as well.
Unlike many city neighborhoods that try the Main Street approach to resurgence - attracting restaurants and boutiques to complement residential development - Fitler Square is an easy walk to retail and dining opportunities already in place.
The neighborhood's "walking score" - which measures the ability to do just about anything without a car - is "ridiculously high," Glick says, complaining only that he has to leave Fitler Square for the hockey equipment he needs, at age 57, to play in two different leagues.
Which is not to say that Fitler Square is without its cafés and shops. It simply lacks the hustle and bustle resulting from an influx of shoppers. And, if you find yourself on 26th Street near Pine, the absence of noise is deafening.
Prudential Fox & Roach associate broker Jeffrey Block sells a lot of houses here, when they become available.
"It is a great place for families," Block says. But because people tend to settle into Fitler Square for the long haul, "housing inventory is an issue, especially in today's market."
As in many places, lack of houses for sale is boosting prices here, yet the median price remains below that of wealthier Rittenhouse Square, where condos at 10 Rittenhouse are going for $1,000-plus per square foot and where 1706 Rittenhouse Square Street just closed on the last of its 31 luxury condos - most of which sold in excess of $5 million, developer Tom Scannapieco says.
According to property records, Jacoba and David Zaring paid $815,000 for their house in the 2400 block of Spruce Street a year ago.
"The home they bought would be $1 million now and would sell immediately," Block says. "If a desirable home comes on the market, and it is priced on the high side of right - it is gone in a flash."
Jacoba Zaring is studying for her Ph.D. in psychology at Bryn Mawr College, and her husband, David, teaches at the Wharton School. The couple moved here from Washington, D.C., in 2008, buying a trinity at 21st and Lombard Streets that they and their two toddlers quickly outgrew. They thought a four-bedroom would meet their needs.
"We looked at 40 houses just about everywhere in the city and the suburbs over a year and happened on an open house for one on Pine Street that we considered outside our price range," Zaring says. The house they eventually bought is just a half-block from the park.
The Zarings' purchase was among 51 recorded in the Fitler Square neighborhood in the last 12 months, Trend Multiple Listing Service records provided by Block show. The highest sale price: $1.6 million for a five-bedroom/three-bath townhouse. The lowest: $215,000 for a condo.
Green spaces - the square, Schuylkill Park, public gardens, and dog parks - as well as the diversity of the housing here give Fitler Square a special feel.
Parts of the neighborhood were built in the 19th century, right after the Civil War. Also represented are rowhouses and the building styles of the 1920s and early 1930s, when the children of the well-to-do who fled to the Main Line moved back to the city for that adrenaline rush of youth that lures their descendants back to Philadelphia today.
"The houses toward the river are smaller than those east and north," says Dranoff, "because they were workers' housing. This was the printing district, and this is where they worked and lived."
"While the Schuylkill today is a big asset for buyers, people in those times didn't want to be anywhere near it," he says, recalling that the west side of the river was lined with animal-rendering plants dumping untreated waste.
These days, the river is an amenity, much like the park and the highly thought-of Albert Greenfield public school and the private Philadelphia School.
"Anything coming on the market here just gets snapped up right away," Glick says.
Town By Town: FITLER SQUARE
Population: 4,520 (2010)
Median income: $70,061 (2011)
Area: 0.157 square miles
Homes for sale: 22 (includes 13 condos)
Settlements in the last three months: 10
Median days on market: 32
Median price (single-family homes): $460,000
Median price (all homes): $460,000
Housing stock: 18th-century dwellings to recent infill townhouses, and every era in between.
School district: Philadelphia
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; CIty-data.com; Jeffrey Block, Prudential Fox & Roach, with Trend MLS