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Cedar Park: The unofficial suburb that gave us Ray Romano’s TV dad

It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, entertainment options and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Cedar Park? Buy the stuff.

Cedar Park has always been a place to get away from the noise. Tucked away several blocks south and west of the University of Pennsylvania, it started as an unofficial, “streetcar” suburb for Philadelphia. Home to century-old churches, the guy who played the dad on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (and, crucially, the star of “Young Frankenstein”) and a vibrant and eclectic strip of businesses on Baltimore Avenue, Cedar Park is now one of the most popular, rapidly-developing areas of the city.

Boundaries

Cedar Park runs west from 46th to 52nd and north from Kingsessing Avenue and the Regional Rail line to Larchwood Avenue

Population

15,416

Population Age 20-34

4,670

Rent vs. Own

4,079 vs 2,637

Median Rents and Median Home Values

The median housing price is $243,000, according to Zillow. Zillow puts the median rent at $1,100.

Race

Community Centers/Community Activities

Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 815 S. 48th Street

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Name Origin

Cedar Park comes from the park nestled between 50th and 49th streets north of Baltimore Avenue. It was finished in 1909, according to Robert Morris Skaler’s “West Philadelphia: University City to 52nd Street,” or 1911, according to the main sign in the park.

History of the Neighborhood

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Cedar Park is well within the city limits of Philadelphia, but it sprouted up as an unofficial suburb. The attraction was bigger houses and less noise than neighborhoods closer to the city.

Starting in the late 19th century, according to Skaler’s “West Philadelphia,” Philadelphia expanded its trolley lines farther out past University City. With travel to and from Center City now convenient, new houses were built in the Cedar Park neighborhood. Like the suburbs of today, Cedar Park had few businesses and was largely residential, full of large homes and apartments for the white-collar middle class. Three major churches were also built in the neighborhood. Cedar Park was considered an ideal location for them because of the space, proximity to the trolleys and the upper middle class demographics.

Baltimore Avenue became the major entertainment and commercial strip of Cedar Park and the adjoining West Philly neighborhoods just past University City, featuring corner, clothing and hardware stores, as well as bars, arcades and pool halls.

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Like much of Philadelphia, Cedar Park underwent a population and demographic shift in the middle part of the 20th century. Many people moved out to actual suburbs lilke, leaving more vacant houses than occupied houses for a time. Lower-income residents and immigrants mainly moved in. Baltimore Avenue went belly-up, with a resident telling the Inquirer it was “bombed-out” in the 80s and the Inquirer describing it as “a hodgepodge of dilapidated storefronts and vacant, vandalized and garbage-strewn properties.”

Since the late ’80s and early ’90s, Cedar Park has experienced a resurgence driven by younger professionals, immigrants (including many refugees) and employees at Penn and Drexel, giving the neighborhood a melting pot feel.

Backdrop

St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church and School has gained a measure of fame recently for being the home to Play On Philly, an organization that provides free musical instruction to children who otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to learn. The program and several students who have attended de Sales have been featured throughout Philadelphia media and most recently in the documentary “Crescendo! The Power of Music” at the Philadelphia Film Festival.  

Alumni

Peter Boyle, actor: Boyle grew up near 50th and Baltimore and was a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales. He’s best known for playing Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein” and the father in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He died in 2006.

Cedar Park’s diverse restaurant scene

A resident of Cedar Park once bragged about knowing neighbors from 21 different countries. And you only need to walk down Baltimore Avenue to see this diversity and eclecticism. It remains the cultural and commercial hub of the neighborhood and features Mediterranean, Laotian, Mexican and Ethiopian restaurants.

Dahlak Paradise Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant is probably the best known. It’s been located at 47th and Baltimore since 1983 and was one of the first new restaurants to develop on Baltimore Avenue when the neighborhood began turning around.

Other well-known ethnic restaurants include Vientiane Cafe (Laotian), Taco Angeleno (Mexican), Gojjo (Ethiopian), Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian) and Fu-Wah (Vietnamese market).

Take the Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll if you want to check out many of the places.

What Used to Be

Back in 1903, before the park that gave Cedar Park its name was built, there was a firehouse on 50th and Baltimore, in the center of the neighborhood. The multistory building was used until 1984 and then, like much of the neighborhood, fell into disrepair.

In 1988, the community organization Cedar Park Neighbors helped redevelop it as a farmers market, and it stayed that way for 17 years. Since 2007, the building has been home to Dock Street Brewery. Dock Street, originally located in Center City, claims to be the first microbrewery in Philadelphia.

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Thing to Check Out

Jazz In the Park. For the last several years, Friday nights in the summer have meant live jazz in the park at 50th and Baltimore.

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One of the churches. The churches that defined this area in the early 20th century are still standing. You’ll find the perfect setting for a picture at Calvary United Methodist Church at 48th and Baltimore or St. Francis de Sales on 47th and Springfield. Hickman Temple AME Church, at 50th Baltimore, takes up the building known in the early 20th century as St. Paul’s Presbyterian.

Your coolest shot will probably be St. Francis de Sales. It was founded in 1890 and features architecture modeled from the style of famous European cathedrals.

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Controversy

Though Cedar Park doesn’t get as many headlines as Point Breeze, Graduate Hospital, Fishtown or other gentrifying areas of the city, Cedar Park is developing at a greater rate than all of them, according to rental prices. From 2010 to 2014, a UPenn professor estimated the average rent in Cedar Park went up 62 percent. From 2013 to 2014 alone, rent went up 18 percent, higher than any other neighborhood. In comparison, Philadelphia as a whole went down 6 percent from 2013 to 2014. Cedar Park Neighbors has been trying to ensure the neighborhood has enough affordable housing to maintain the diversity that has defined it.

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