Ken Weinstein doesn’t like to use the word “stuck,” but for all intents and purposes, that’s the word for what’s up with the former Trolley Car Diner.
Ken Weinstein doesn’t like to use the word “stuck,” but for all intents and purposes, that’s the word for what’s up with the former Trolley Car Diner, which is still parked at 7611 Germantown Ave.
After making all kinds of arrangements to move the iconic green rail car, movers who were scheduled to transport it to Wayne Junction on Sept. 20 were forced to abort the mission by a set of uncooperative overhead wires.
“At six in the morning they started to take it off site along Germantown Avenue,” said Weinstein, developer and owner of Philly Office Retail, in a phone interview. “It fairly quickly touched the SEPTA trolley lines and there was actually a state police officer who saw the lines move and radioed that they needed to stop immediately.”
So the movers had to push the creaky old trolley back onto the site, where it still remains.
Problem is, construction is on the way for a five-story, 114-unit apartment complex complete with 38 parking spaces and 7,000 square feet of commercial space on that very property. And the old trolley car that housed the original diner is getting in the way.
“We’ve moved it around a couple times to shuffle it,” said Sam Blake, owner of Blake Development, which is developing the project. “Excavation is, for all intents and purposes, complete – except for the area that’s underneath the trolley.”
Blake said the main hitch in the plan comes from the fact that the trolley lines have sagged six inches from the height they once were, shortening the distance between the road and the wires.
“We get this thing loaded up and ready to move out, and lo and behold, the SEPTA lines had sagged,” said Blake. “So now we get to add an additional layer to it and have SEPTA provide a truck that will raise lines to help the trolley car find its way to its new location.”
Making the whole process more complicated is the seemingly never-ending permit process that’s necessary for getting the trolley off the property. Because Germantown Avenue is a state route, permits are required from PennDOT. Permits are also needed from the city.
“The Trolley Car Diner has been the bane of my existence for the past nine months,” Blake said.
Even getting a company to move the trolley proved to be extremely difficult.
“Not everybody can move those things,” Blake said. “You have to hire a wide load hauler. Not everybody’s qualified to do that, and not everybody has the equipment to do it. You can’t just go into the Yellow Pages and find a trailer guy.”
Diners and mobile homes don’t get moved much - especially in Philadelphia. As a result, the only companies that still do this kind of moving work are far away from the city.
“They pick the thing up, rig it and tie it down,” Blake said. “And that’s a complicated process.”
Originally, Blake had hoped to work the diner into the design of the new building, but the condition of the diner proved to be too poor.
“It just made it absolutely impossible to do,” Blake said. “It’s been taken apart and put back together and is structurally nonexistent.”
That explains why Blake returned the trolley to Weinstein, who is having it restored at a facility in Wayne Junction. After that, its future is uncertain, but Weinstein said he’s gotten calls about it, including from one person who wants to turn it into an Airbnb.
“Currently we don't have a use for this one but we will find one,” Weinstein said. “Once we restore it, I don’t think we’ll have a problem finding a good use and location.”
Weinstein’s company sold the site to Blake Development in March 2020. The Trolley Car Diner and Trolley Car Ice Cream Shoppe previously occupied the property, both of which closed in 2019. The 1948 PCC trolley that had housed the ice cream shop was donated to the Fishtown Kensington Area Business Improvement District.
With the excavation mostly complete on the Germantown Avenue site, Blake said his construction team will start pouring the foundation for the new building sometime in the next couple weeks. The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2024.
“And that’s weather permitting, assuming we don’t have another COVID bout and we don’t get attacked by martians or whatever else could happen at this point,” Blake said about the project which is currently about four months into a 24-month building process.
Blake Development and Main Street Development, the two companies behind the project, plan to fill the complex with a mixture of one bedroom, two bedroom and studio apartments – but not until the trolley gets moved.
“Getting that thing moved is more complicated than building the building I think,” Blake said. “But we’re not giving up.”