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The greater Overbrook area is a located in the northwestern portion of West Philadelphia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In common usage, the name Overbrook refers both to a specific neighborhood and a larger area of West Philadelphia. The larger Overbrook area includes four Philadelphia City Planning Commission neighborhoods: Overbrook, Overbrook Farms, Morris Park and Overbrook Park. The close proximity of Overbrook High School, the Overbrook School for the Blind, the Overbrook SEPTA Station, and Overbrook Avenue unite the four smaller neighborhoods into the larger area of Overbrook. Depending on the definition of Overbrook Farms, The Overbrook School for the Blind either lies partially in Morris Park and partially in Overbrook Farms or entirely in Morris Park.
According to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the main boundaries for the Overbrook neighborhood are North 63rd Street to the west, Lansdowne Avenue to the south, and the SEPTA regional rail tracks to the northeast. A very small portion of Woodbine Avenue between North 63rd Street and the SEPTA regional rail tracks bounds Overbrook to the north while a very small portion of North 52nd Street between Lansdowne Avenue and the SEPTA regional rail tracks bounds Overbrook to the south. The Overbrook neighborhood is home to Overbrook High School.
Overbrook Farms is both a larger neighborhood in the Overbrook area and a distinctive neighborhood in its own right. According to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the northern boundary is City Avenue (US 1). The western boundary is North 66th Street between City Avenue and Woodcrest Avenue and Morris Park between Woodcrest Avenue and Malvern Avenue. The southern border is Malvern Avenue to Wynnewood Road, a small portion of Wynnewood Road, and Woodbine Avenue from Wynnewood Road to North 58th Street. The eastern boundary is North 58th Street between Woodbine Avenue and Overbrook Avenue, a small portion of Overbrook Avenue, and then Cardinal Avenue between Overbrook Avenue and City Avenue. Overbrook Farms borders Saint Joseph’s University on its northeast corner. Although the Philadelphia City Planning Commission considers Malvern Avenue to form part of the southern border, the Overbrook Farms Club states that “At present, there are 413 buildings in Overbrook Farms, which is bounded by 58th and 66th Streets and Woodbine and City Avenues, and bisected by Lancaster Avenue”. Overbrook Farms is home to the Overbrook SEPTA regional rail station; housing for Saint Joseph’s University students, such as the Lancaster Court Apartments; the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, and Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church.
West of the Overbrook neighborhood is a neighborhood that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission calls the Morris Park neighborhood. This neighborhood derives its name from Morris Park, which lies on the neighborhood’s western edge. The eastern boundary of the neighborhood is North 63rd Street. On the north, the boundary is Woodbine Avenue between North 63rd Street and Wynnewood Road, Wynnewood Road between Woodbine Avenue and Malvern Avenue, and Malvern Avenue between Wynnewood Road and North 68th Street. On the west, the boundary is North 68th Street and Morris Park between Malvern Avenue and Haverford Avenue, Cobbs Creek Park between Haverford Avenue and North 67th Street, and North 67th Street between Callowhill Street and North Gross Street. The southern border is Arch Street at North Gross Street, bordering Cobbs Creek Park. Although the Philadelphia City Planning Commission defines a portion of the Overbrook area as the Morris Park neighborhood, the residents of the Morris Park neighborhood refer to the neighborhood as Overbrook. The Roman Catholic parishes of St. Donato and St. Callistus are in the Morris Park neighborhood. On the corner of North 66th Street and Lansdowne Avenue, there is a mural, green space, and a garden. The sign says “Overbrook: A great place to live together.” The garden is called Vito’s Garden.
Overbrook Park’s boundaries are City Avenue to the north and Morris Park on the west, south, and east. Haverford Avenue connects Overbrook Park to the Morris Park neighborhood while City Avenue connects Overbrook Park to Overbrook Farms.
Greater Overbrook is in the Fourth Councilmanic District of Philadelphia, represented by Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., elected in 2007 to a first term. The 19th Police District of the Philadelphia Police Department protects Overbrook.
Overbrook developed in various stages between 1900 and 1960. The dominant housing type is the rowhouse. Because Overbrook was built in the early twentieth century when trolley lines were allowing middle class Philadelphians to move out from more crowded rowhouse communities, one can find a wide variety of styles of rowhomes in Overbrook. Overbrook was a community of choice when it was built. Real estate advertisements in the “Philadelphia Inquirer” in the 1920s referred to the area as “exclusive.” Facades of all kinds grace the fronts of otherwise uniform brick and stone rowhouses. Typical rowhomes in Overbrook are between 1000 and 1,700 square feet (160 m2) in size. Companies such as the McClatchy Company, the John McGinty Company, and smaller developers such as the Moss and Taylor Company constructed the majority of Overbrook’s rowhouses. Outside of Overbrook Farms, most of the houses in the Overbrook area date from between 1915 and 1930, with the Great Depression bringing a halt to new construction nationally and locally.
In addition to rowhouses, one can find a sizeable number of twin (semi-detached) houses. These semi-detached homes have two or three floors and typically are over 2,000 square feet (190 m2) in size. Prime examples of typical Overbrook twin houses are along Wynnewood Road from Haverford Avenue to Malvern Avenue, North 64th Street between Lansdowne and Lebanon Avenues, or Nassau Road between North 61st and 63rd Streets.
There are very few detached single-family homes in Overbrook. Single homes typically pre-date the construction of most of Overbrook’s housing or came into existence on select lots after the construction of most of the rowhouses and twin houses. For example, one will see a few single-family homes on Wynnewood Road near Columbia Avenue. A large stone home remains this intersection. This home once sat on acres of land that the owner(s) sold off to developers who then constructed twin houses and rowhouses. The vast majority of the single-family, detached homes in the Overbrook area are in the Overbrook Farms neighborhood.
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As a community of primarily middle and working-class families, Overbrook is a community with below average rates of residents on government assistance programs such as welfare. Census data from 2000 indicate that Overbrook has a large number of households with two parents present, and home ownership/owner-occupancy remains around 65%. This is a slight decline from the 1990 figure of owner-occupancy of 71%.
Philadelphia Police have said anecdotally that crime rates overall in Overbrook remain low compared to the rest of West Philadelphia. Indeed, this perception that Overbrook is a "better" part of West Philadelphia is often discussed by residents when more police presence is sought. Many in the community believe police resources are consistently spread in other more distressed communities. Discussions the author has had with 19th Police District officers indicate this belief is well-founded.
Police data reveal the burglaries, automobile thefts, and robberies are uncommon in the Overbrook community as a whole.
Violent crime is also uncommon in the Overbrook community; however, there are instances of gun-related crime across the community from time-to-time. Certain areas are more prone to this sort of crime, according to police data. As with many Philadelphia communities, Overbrook has large sections that are quiet and relatively free of crime, while other pockets, in stark contrast, seem to be where violence most often occurs. When speaking with residents of the community, it is not uncommon to find people still believe that areas west of 63rd Street are quieter or more stable than areas to the east.
In terms of the physical integrity of the Ovebrook neighborhood, a simple drive through the area reveals that the most physically deteriorated parts of Overbrook are east of 63rd Street, and closer to Lansdowne Avenue. West of 63rd Street, and east of 63rd and north of Jefferson Street, one finds many streets that are somewhat suburban in appearance - yards, many trees soften the residential environment. Several thoroughfares have landscape medians in the middle in these areas.
Various community groups are working to prevent small quality-of-life problems (littering, dumping, graffiti) from overwhelming the community. These issues appear to be the most pressing ones for many residents of Overbrook today.
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As Overbrook nears its centennial, its future could go many ways. As Philadelphia real estate continues to gain value, Overbrook increasingly finds itself a community with well-proportioned homes made with good materials such as brick and stone, a variety of architectural styles, and home prices that are suited to middle-income buyers. The median price of a home in Overbrook increased between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census. For example, the author's home in Overbrook sold for just $66,500 in 1996. By 2006, the house was able to sell for $133,000. This story repeated itself across the neighborhood, particularly west of 63rd Street where homes are often larger than in other parts of the community. Only with the real estate slow down of late has Overbrook seen home prices stabilize, and time on the market for properties increase.
The community continues to attract a culturally diverse population, with some homes beginning to go to newcomers from Center City Philadelphia and other communities, where the reasonable prices and comfortable homes were selling points. Most newcomers, following the pattern of the last decade, remain African Americans with children.
Overbrook's community groups, such as the Neighbors of Overbrook Association, the Morris Park Restoration Association (MPRA), the Royal Gardens Association, Town Watch, ACORN, and others will continue to work together to build on Overbrook's cultural and physical assets in pushing forward in the 21st Century.
Overbrook, while overwhelmingly residential in character, does have several notable landmark buildings and institutions that help tell the story of the growth, character, and daily life of the community:
Notably, despite the erosion of much of the Italian-American community in Overbrook, two Italian social clubs remain in the community.
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