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, community centers and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Chestnut Hill? Buy the stuff.
Welcome to Chestnut Hill, the residential neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia where families have settled and made the area feel more like a suburb than a city. The neighborhood was at one time a summer vacation spot for Philadelphia’s affluent residents, but is now one of the richest zip codes in Philly, second only to Society Hill. It was the home of at least two former mayors, a mansion where Jodie Foster swam and the home of the real James Bond.
Chestnut Hill is bounded by Northwestern Avenue, Stenton Avenue, Cresheim Valley Drive and the Wissahickon Gorge.
Population Age 20-to-34
1,956 (22.3 percent)
Rent vs. Own
1,931 households vs. 1,839 households
Median home price
The median sale price of homes in Chestnut Hill is $442,500, according to real estate website Trulia. That figure actually represents a decline in home sale price of more than 12 percent compared to the same time last year. But the median sale price in Chestnut Hill is still 240 percent higher than the median sale price in the rest of Philadelphia.
Median rent price
The median rent price in Chestnut Hill is $1,300, according to Zillow, which is actually slightly lower than the median Philadelphia rent price despite homes being valued much higher.
Chestnut Hill got its name in the 18th century from (shockingly!) the abundance of Chestnut trees there. The neighborhood also has a higher elevation than most of Philadelphia. Hence, Chestnut Hill.
The area of Chestnut Hill was first settled in 1687 by 13 families who constructed the first housing for settlers near Germantown Avenue and Mermaid Lane. The area officially became known as Chestnut Hill in 1711 and became a popular vacation destination during the Revolutionary War because of its cooler temps, what with the elevation and the trees.
In 1854, Chestnut Hill officially became part of Philadelphia when the county and city essentially merged, and in the same year, the Chestnut Hill Railroad opened which made it easier for residents to actually live in the neighborhood and commute into Center City.
By the 1900s, the neighborhood became known as a sort of pseudo-suburb — it was still a part of the city, but it wasn’t close enough to Center City to have the same feel.
Aerial view of Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill circa 1962.
Today, the neighborhood serves is populated by a high percentage of families. It’s one of the richest areas in the city, and is home to Chestnut Hill College, a school of about 1,500 undergraduates. Its main street is Germantown Avenue, a cobblestone road through Chestnut Hill that is dotted with shops, restaurants and things to do.
The OG James Bond
James Bond, the American ornithologist who was an expert on birds of the Caribbean, was born in Philadelphia. His name was eventually appropriated by Ian Fleming when he created fictional spy and Agent 007 James Bond. Apparently, Fleming had been reading one of the real Bond’s books on birds, and decided the name was just what he needed. Bond (…James Bond) was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Gwynedd and died in Chestnut Hill Hospital, and his wife was still living in Chestnut Hill in the early 90s.
William Green III
Served as the 120th mayor of the City of Philadelphia and moved to Chestnut Hill in the late 70s to practice law.
The mayor who served Philadelphia in the 1970s actually grew up in South Philly, and while he was mayor, work started on the process of building him a $300,000 house overlooking Fairmount Park in Roxborough. But political rivals dropped public hints that Rizzo’s net worth was less than $90,000, and he abandoned the project and moved to Chestnut Hill instead. He bought a $90,000 home there in 1973.
Brian Roberts and David Cohen
Roberts is the chairman and chief executive officer of the Comcast Corporation; David Cohen serves as a top Comcast executive and was Ed Rendell’s chief of staff during his time as mayor. Both have homes in Chestnut Hill. (Roberts also has a spot in Rittenhouse.)
This actor, best known as Dr. “Boomer” Morrison on the television series St. Elsewhere and as Brutus from the Green Mile, moved to Chestnut Hill in the 90’s with his family after an earthquake leveled their California home. Morse also had parts in World War Z (its opening zombie scene is in Philly, remember?), Disturbia, House and The Hurt Locker.
Diaz is a former judge a current candidate for mayor of the City of Philadelphia.
What Used to Be
Chestnut Hill Hotel
Even though the Chestnut Hill Hotel still exists today, it’s a large part of what this neighborhood once was — a remote vacation area for the affluent residents of Philadelphia. The existing building was built in 1864 to replace an Inn in the same location that was constructed in 1772.
A pool where Jodie Foster swam
The romantic drama Stealing Home had one scene filmed at a Chestnut Hill home, and the place’s claim to fame is now that Jodie Foster once touched the bottom of the pool. The 7,000 square foot mansion in Chestnut Hill is named “Lynnewood.”
In 2012, a PBS film crew visited a home in Chestnut Hill so that it could featured in a documentary about some of America’s most influential architecture. The Venturi House, designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi, is noted among designers as not that large, but having a “grand scale” design.
Thing to check out
Wissahickon Valley Trail
Image courtesy of Friends of the Wissahickon
You can find more than 50 miles of hiking right in Philadelphia at the Wissahickon Valley Trail, and it’s accessible from Chestnut Hill.
Community Gathering Places
Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment at 8431 Germantown Ave.
Chestnut Hill Community Association at 8434 Germantown Ave.
The above building, known as the neighborhood’s unofficial town hall, was built in 1899 and was originally a dance hall, according to David R. Contosta’s book, “Suburb in the City.”
Water Tower Recreation Center at 200 E. Hartwell Ln.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum is located in Chestnut Hill at 100 E. Northwestern Ave.