The tram restaurant is jammed
by Tom Beck
Ken Weinstein doesn’t like to use the word “stuck,” but for all intents and purposes, that’s the word for what’s going on with the old Trolley Car Diner, which is still parked at 7611 Germantown Ave.
After making all sorts of arrangements to move the iconic green wagon, the movers who were to transport it to Wayne Junction on September 20 were forced to abort the mission by a set of uncooperative overhead wires.
“At 6 a.m. they started pulling it off the site along Germantown Avenue,” Weinstein, developer and owner of Philly Office Retail, said in a phone interview. “It hit the SEPTA streetcar lines pretty quickly and there was actually a state police officer who saw the lines move and said over the radio they had to stop immediately.”
So the movers had to push the creaky old cart back to the site, where it still stands.
The problem is that construction is underway for a five-story, 114-unit apartment complex with 38 parking spaces and 7,000 square feet of retail space on that same property. And the old tram that housed the original restaurant is getting in the way.
“We moved it a few times to mix it up,” said Sam Blake, owner of Blake Development, which is developing the project. “The excavation is, for all intents and purposes, complete – except for the area under the cart.”
Blake said the main problem with the plan comes from the fact that the streetcar lines have sank six inches from the height they once were, shortening the distance between the road and the cables.
“We get this thing loaded and ready to go out, and lo and behold, the SEPTA lines had sag,” Blake said. “So now we can add an extra layer to that and ask SEPTA to provide a truck that will lift the lines to help the tram find its way to its new location.”
Making the whole process more complicated is the seemingly endless permit process that is required to remove the cart from the property. Since Germantown Avenue is a state road, permits are required from PennDOT. Permits are also required 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 cart proved extremely difficult.
“Not everyone can move these things,” Blake said. “You need to hire a wide load carrier. Not everyone is qualified to do it, and not everyone has the equipment to do it. You can’t just go to the Yellow Pages and find a trailer dealer.
Diners and mobile homes don’t move much, especially in Philadelphia. Therefore, the only companies that still perform this type of move are far from the city.
“They pick up the thing, rig it up and tie it up,” Blake said. “And it’s a complicated process.”
Originally, Blake had hoped to incorporate the restaurant into the design of the new building, but the condition of the restaurant turned out to be too poor.
“It made it absolutely impossible to do it,” Blake said. “It has been disassembled and reassembled and is structurally non-existent.”
This explains why Blake returned the cart to Weinstein, who has it restored at a facility in Wayne Junction. After that, its future is uncertain, but Weinstein said he had received calls about it, including from someone who wanted to make it an Airbnb.
“Right now we don’t have a use for it, 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 a good location.”
Weinstein’s company sold the site to Blake Development in March 2020. The Trolley Car Diner and the Trolley Car Ice Cream Shoppe previously occupied the property, which both closed in 2019. The 1948 PCC trolley that had housed the store of ice cream was donated at Fishtown. Kensington Area Business Improvement District.
With excavation nearing completion at the Germantown Avenue site, Blake said his construction crew will begin pouring the foundation for the new building within the next two weeks. The project is expected to be completed in 2024.
“And weather permitting, assuming we don’t have another bout of COVID and we don’t get attacked by Martians or whatever else might happen at this point,” said Blake about the project which is currently around four months after 24 months. building process.
Blake Development and Main Street Development, the two companies behind the project, plan to fill the complex with a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio apartments – but not before the cart is moved.
“I think moving this thing around is more complicated than actually building the building,” Blake said. “But we’re not giving up.”