Trolley Portal Gardens and Trolley Car Station: Up and Running at 40th Street

Trolley Portal Gardens is now open. The space is the culmination of years of fundraising, planning and construction to transform the 40th Street Trolley Portal into a welcoming, inclusive neighborhood amenity. The space is also home to the brand new Trolley Car Station restaurant, which is officially open to the public. Hundreds of friends and neighbors attended the September 27 ribbon cutting where key partners, stakeholders and officials described the teamwork and partnerships required to transform the once barren space into a verdant new public space. Featured speakers included Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney; Representative Jim Roebuck; Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; Deputy Secretary Lauren Imgrund, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel; Trolley Car Station Owner Ken Weinstein; University of Pennsylvania’s Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli; Executive Director of the William Penn Foundation Shawn McCaney; and President and CEO of PIDC John Grady.

Through a unique public-private partnership with SEPTA, the City of Philadelphia and neighborhood stakeholders, University City District raised $2.1 million to transform the 40th Street Trolley Portal, the busiest at-grade rail station in the city. The two-story restaurant was privately financed. By combining great urban design, infrastructure renewal and community engagement, UCD transformed the space from an unsightly expanse of concrete into a vibrant and social space featuring beautiful landscaping, movable and colorful seating and a new restaurant that serves as a community asset for thousands of neighbors, commuters and local employees. They developed the plans for Trolley Portal Gardens with significant input from local community groups and neighbors, including a Trolley Portal Advisory Committee comprised of professionals from the architecture, engineering, and construction sectors, and from neighbors from the immediate vicinity.

caption: Photo by Ben Tran

Trolley Portal Gardens serves as a beautiful gateway for West Philadelphia trolley passengers and a welcoming public space for neighbors. The new establishment, Trolley Car Station, will be an eastern anchor on the fast-growing Baltimore Avenue business corridor, where tens of thousands of neighbors, commuters, university students and employees from the nearby VA Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia converge.

The site design emphasizes safety and comfort for the estimated 5,000 riders who board or exit trolleys at the Portal each day. The project improves pedestrian circulation while using cutting-edge storm water management techniques that replace impervious surfaces with lush wildflower meadow-like mounds planted with native species. The overall aesthetic improvements enhances the commutes of nearly 60,000 riders who pass through the Portal each day. Green City Works, UCD’s full-service landscaping social venture, maintains the space, ensuring that the neighborhood’s beautification is tied to growth and opportunity for local residents.   

This beautification project gives the neighborhood a new beginning. As UCD Chair Matt Bergheiser said, this is “a dream that became a reality” although it was many years in the making. There had been a ceremonial groundbreaking in December 2016 (Almanac December 13, 2016) and after securing financing, building permits and completing construction plans, construction work began on site in the summer of last year. The station remained open for the duration of the nearly year-long construction project. The trolley station has been there since the 1950s.

The 40,000 square-foot project, which totaled around $4.5 million including the restaurant, has been in the works for years. Money for the space came from philanthropic funding and local and state grants. It began when West Philly and University City residents came to UCD about beautifying the space, which longtime Philadelphians will remember as a typical transit portal, full of concrete slabs, wires and rails.

Photos by Chris Richman, courtesy of University City District