After our first visit to Philly, we were eager to return to explore more. We quickly made plans for our second visit the weekend after New Years. We decided that the second trip had to be about familiarizing ourselves with the overall city itself by having access to a car and spending a good amount of time driving around to see more of the city and get a better understanding of the lay of the land.
We opted for an Airbnb again. This time we chose a to stay with a lovely couple with the hopes of grilling them a bit on life in Philadelphia. She has a Eastern Medicine practice and he is a civil rights attorney. and as it turned out, she was a native Brooklynite who relocated from New York to Philly in the 90s. The location was perfect, they had a rather large house in the Graduate Hospital area (just sƒouth of Rittenhouse Square). An easy walk to several places and good for getting a feel for neighborhoods.
As for getting a car… Ask any New Yorker and they will tell you that renting a car for a weekend from NYC is absurdly expensive. In the past, we have taken trains to Connecticut to pick up rental cars just to save a few hundred dollars. So, renting a car for the weekend was not really an option, but getting around in a Zipcar was perfect! I had a Zipcar membership in Chicago before relocating to New York in 2007. Initially, I planned to keep it up here in NYC, but like renting a car can be expensive, Zipcars easily run $16-$20 an hour (plus extra fees)… Again, too expensive. So I gave my membership up in 2008.
It turns out that Zipcars can be rented for as little as $7 per hour in Philadelphia, and 24 hour rentals run about $95 bucks. Keep in mind that gives you the car, the insurance, and the gas for one price. Not a bad deal! So I reinstated my old membership, and reserved a Zipcar near the bus depot for a 24 hour slot ending an hour before our bus back to NYC.
But before we went to pick up the car on Saturday afternoon, we wanted to see a few houses. On our first trip we had managed to fit in six open houses in addition to our schlepping about the city. We quickly learned that we don’t want a 125 year old shell filled with sheet-rocked walls, pot-lights, engineered floors, glass tiles, or granite countertops (no offense intended to those who aspire to that). What we do want is a 125+ year old house with original details, plaster walls, wide plank floors, maybe a fireplace mantle, some old doors, perhaps a few rim locks and character for days.
On our first trip in December, we attend an open house on Carpenter Street which didn’t have all of the above, but it did have character and was in fact quite charming. I had previously described it as having a very tiny living room and dining room, but what I didn’t note was that in addition to the bedrooms on the second floor, there was an entire third floor consisting of about 300 square feet in two rooms. While we were there, Y suggested that perhaps the third floor could be my studio space, as in, I could have the entire third floor to myself!
Well that certainly got the thought juices flowing and together we decided that another criteria for our house was that beyond just having a room to use as a studio, we wanted a house that offered a floor plan in which we could set aside a truly dedicated space for me to use as my studio. For those who were following us on my other website, Half Classic Six, part of the plan of our apartment was to carve out a corner of the kitchen for creative space. Then when Philadelphia came into the picture, the corner became a room. Now the room has transformed into an entire floor! Holy Cow!We liked the Carpenter street house well enough that we wanted to see it again. It was priced well, and the location was pretty good on the border of Bella Vista and Queen Village. So we remembered that we liked the realtor who was selling the house (Josh) and decided we wanted to see the house again. We also talked about perhaps even making an offer on it. The only thing holding us back was the tiny living room and dining rooms on the main floor. But we had to see it once more to know.
Since we are having a realtor show us the house, it made sense to try and see a couple of other houses while we were there. We reached out to Josh with a list of five houses to see if we could see while we were there. One of them was on Camac Street in the Wash West area (aka the Gayborhood, my dream location) and although at 1,200 square feet, it was a bit small, it had that dedicated third floor for my creative space. That one turned out to have just gone off the market. Another house was also in the Wash West area, and I was interested because it was on one of those tiny streets across from a beautiful small park, and it had a nice backyard. But it turned out to also have a tight-winder stair which we had already ruled out. That left us with three houses to look at, one of them completely outside of our “zone of acceptability” neighborhood wise.
When we arrived in the city on Friday night, we made our way to our Airbnb, dropped our bags and went to dinner. After dinner, with temperatures hovering around freezing, our curiosity drove us to take a 30 minute walk to that house outside of our “zone of acceptability” because… Well, you’ll find out.
Saturday morning we awoke to several inches of fresh snow and bitter cold winds. After breakfast at our new favorite spot, Miles Table on South Street, we walked to the Carpenter Street house (about a mile and a half) where we met Josh. The plan was to take a closer look, take measurements and photos, try and figure out how we could put a half bath on the already small main floor, all the while trying to envision ourselves in that house. We spent about 25 minutes poking about, looking at all of the spaces, checking out the basement, thinking about how we could make it work. I spent time envisioning how I could turn the third floor into my studio space. We liked the house, but ultimately, after our second visit, the living/dining room space was just too small. After adding a necessary half bath to the main floor, we would be left with a main living space of less than 250 square feet combined in a 1,400 square foot house. Not going to work. From there Josh took us to the next house, the one outside of our “zone of acceptability”
I had previously drawn my neighborhood boundaries to be fairly specific in that we wanted to be able to walk to groceries, dinner, shopping, etc… The absolute southern edge of our zone of acceptability was Washington Avenue, a major east/west thoroughfare along the southern edges of Bella Vista and Queen Village neighborhoods. But there was this one house on Federal Street…
Go to Part 2