Humble beginnings, growth, decay and rebirth characterize the long history of this distinctive Philadelphia suburb, which borders the northernmost portion of the city, in Cheltenham township, about 6 miles away from Center City, Philadelphia. Elkins Park is an eclectic blend of old and new, including elaborate mansions, some well-maintained, others dilapidated, as well as modern buildings and newly established businesses. The neighborhood is undergoing something of a renaissance following a period of decline. Unemployment in the area is almost a full two percentage points lower than the national average, reflecting the bustling economic growth in the area. A real sense of community consciousness is palpable in Elkins Park, and residents are committed to building a better, more integrated and connected neighborhood.
Restaurants & Nightlife
Visitors to Elkins Park cannot help but pick up on the pervasive philosophy of supporting local businesses and artists. Fortunately, there are plenty of talented and enterprising locals to support.
In 2013, innovative chefs Locke Johnston and Owen Lee created Park Plates, a casual dining restaurant specializing in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu changes with the seasons, but always features gourmet selections such as eggplant caviar and fennel-roast salmon. Regardless of the season, the menu inevitably includes some variety of bronzino. Entrées are typically around $20, reflecting the exquisite ingredients and preparation that define Park Plates’s culinary craftsmanship. Its Sunday Supper Project is a monthly event showcasing live music with a food buffet.
Alexander’s Cafe is a family-owned restaurant established by Polish immigrants. While it maintains its Eastern European identity, with pierogies, stuffed cabbage and Polish sausage, it includes food from other parts of the world, such as pasta and hummus. The signature dish is the grilled salmon with fresh spinach, blue cheese, orange, pears, walnuts and a honey teriyaki sauce. The cafe has a pleasant outdoor terrace and live acoustic background music on Saturday nights.
For something to do on a weeknight, stop by McKinley’s Tavern. Open-mic Tuesdays, Karaoke Wednesday and Bingo Thursday make this one of the most popular hot spots in the neighborhood. It also has beer and food, with a kitchen that stays open until 1:30 am. Patrons rave about the jack-cheddar bacon fries and consistently describe the staff as friendly, courteous and helpful. The bar allows smoking, a rarity in the Philly area, but there is an outdoor patio area when you need to get some fresh air.
If local theater, comedy and music strikes your fancy, there’s usually something going at White Pines Place. Like most of Elkins Park, this performing arts studio is infused with a sense of community. The studio does more than put on shows. It actively reaches out to get others involved, teaching classes in song, dance, acting and improvisational comedy.
History & Culture
Among Philadelphia founder William Penns’s fellow Quaker settlers was Richard Wall, co-founder of Cheltenham Township. Wall’s house, built in 1682 and now a museum, remains one of the main historical points of interest.
The Wall family owned several grain mills in the area, and milling grain constituted the backbone of the local economy until the late 19th century, when William Elkins commissioned architect Horace Trumbauer to construct several buildings.
History and architecture buffs can indulge in some of the most significant buildings in the Philadelphia area, including the Wall House, Frank Lloyd Wright's Beth Sholom Congregation, and Lynnewood Hall, a once spectacular but now decaying 110-room mansion.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Elkins Park, check out the Turtle Artisan’s Tour, which begins at the Elkins Estate, and continues through the homes of other famous Elkins Park residents as well as modern artists and artisans in the neighborhood.
The Elkins Park train station sits conveniently near the geographic center of the neighborhood. Three different regional rail lines, the Warminster Line, West Trenton Line and the Lansdale/Doylestown Line serve this station. All these lines bring travelers to Center City Philadelphia in under 20 minutes. The station has parking space for 59 vehicles. Bus routes 28, 55, 70 and 77 also pick up passengers from this station.
Route 611 runs north/south through Elkins Park. Continuing south, this road becomes Broad Street, the main north/south artery of Philadelphia. Heading north on 611 the road becomes Old York Road, with an on-ramp for Route 276, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 6 miles to the north.
The cost of living in Elkins Park averages about 13 percent higher than the national average. The average rental rate is $867.18, with one-bedrooms ranging from $800 to $1050. Gas is about 6.8 percent higher than the national average.
If you are content with non-craft beers, you can get a pint for as low as $2.00 during happy hour, and even the fancier brews can be yours for no more than $4.00 if you go to the right place at the right time. Weekday travel into Center City costs $4.75, or $3.75 on weekends and evenings. A monthly pass is $135.
Visitors to Elkins Park have plenty of opportunities to shop, and they don't need to walk very far. Many of the local businesses are clustered in a shopping district directly adjacent to the train station.
Locals appreciate both the Creekside Food Co-op's good food at low prices and the social environment it provides. In addition to quality products from local vendors, the co-op is a hub for community gatherings, with live music every week and occasional special events. Its online member forum allows co-op members to make suggestions about products and events, and it has evolved into a focal point for the entire community to discuss local issues and connect with their neighbors.
While the co-op gives Elkins Park residents the opportunity to buy locally produced and distributed grocery items, Shardlow Designs lets them put the same buy locally philosophy into their clothing selections. Owner and designer Denise Shardlow produces custom-made clothing for men and women, all of them stitched together right there in Elkins Park. Shardlow makes dresses, gowns, capes and wraps, all individually made to order, but specializes in coats and jackets with her signature ERNSTdottir line.
Step back in time at Hanley's Antiques. Featuring elegant chandeliers, furniture, grandfather clocks and artwork, much of it from the 19th century, Hanley's inventory is as breathtaking as it is old. The shop is only open on Saturday for casual browsing, but shoppers can make an appointment to discuss specific antique pieces of interest.
Elkins Park contains a few parks, though none are named Elkins Park. All are open to the public without a fee and allow dogs, as long as they are leashed.
Ogontz Park, also known as High School Park, covers 10.35 acres. The high school for which it is named has been closed since 1977, but the park remains one of the principal attractions of the community. The township purchased the high school grounds primarily for its extensive athletic facilities, which include three tennis courts, a handicapped-accessible playground, a quarter-mile jogging track and two softball fields converted for soccer.
Since 1995, High School Park has hosted the annual Arts in the Park Festival with food vendors, handmade arts and crafts and activities for kids, both fun and educational. The Tookany-Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, and the Cheltenham Township Environmental Action Committee teach children and adults about environment issues affecting the area.
Parents love to bring their kids to Wall Park, a 13-acre facility, with three tennis courts and a full basketball court, all of them lighted, a skate park for skateboard and in-line skates, two softball fields and Once Upon a Time Playground, where children can swing, slide and make castles in the sand. In the summertime, the park offers a supervised playground program for kids aged 6 to 12, with arts and crafts, athletics and other fun activities.
The 7-acre John Russell Park features two softball fields converted for soccer and grass-covered open space suitable for picnics or tossing a Frisbee around.