A rocky start for Trolley Car development

by Tom Beck
Posted 1/17/24

A residential project at the former site of the diner is running behind, but now has plenty of Wissahickon Schist.

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A rocky start for Trolley Car development


The bad news? The completion of Blake Development’s planned five-story, 114-residential unit project at the former site of the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy is about six months behind schedule.

The good news? Blake now has plenty of extra Wissahickon Schist to incorporate into the facade.

That’s because the construction team hit a bit of a snag – or more precisely a giant pile of Wissahickon Schist – in the excavation process. 

Blake Development founder and owner Sam Blake knew the property, located at 7619 Germantown Ave., was the former site of a quarry and had a rockier-than-normal foundation. But when they started digging, what he discovered was a tad worse than he expected. 

“We did geotechnical reports prior to the process, which can shed some light on what's underground, but they’re not perfect,” he said in a phone call. “You don’t really know until you put the shovels in the ground.”

The plan was always to incorporate schist found onsite into the facade, Blake said. But because the construction team found so much of Northwest Philadelphia’s iconic rock, Blake is going to use more than he had planned. 

“It’s going to be much prettier when it’s completed,” he said. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

The development team already earned high praise from the city’s Civic Design Review board in late 2021, when the committee that advises developers on the aesthetics of their proposals complimented Blake and his group. 

“This is actually a very richly and well-designed project,” CDR committee member Leo Addimando said at the time. “It's rare that in front of this Civic Design Review board we see projects that have as much architectural detail and thought as this one does.”

As of last week, Blake said, the ‘hard’ part is finally over. The foundation has been completely dug out and the elevator and stair towers are now going up. 

Issues with the construction of the project, which sits along a bustling Germantown Avenue corridor right next to Mt. Airy’s border with Chestnut Hill actually started well before the recent excavation issues. In September of last year, the 1948 PCC trolley that formerly housed the diner got stuck onsite after sagging overhead wires prevented the transportation company from moving it off the property. 

“The Trolley Car Diner has been the bane of my existence for the past nine months,” Blake said at the time.

But as of right now, the project is scheduled for completion around the end of 2024, barring any more unforeseen issues. 

“We are full steam ahead,” Blake said. “We’re looking forward to it being built, and we think it’s going to be a beautiful addition to the corridor.”