Living in Bella Vista: A Neighborhood Guide

The Center City skyline isn't the only beautiful sight you will see from the neighborhood that's home to the storied Italian Market.

“Everyone’s Italian” on the late May weekend when the South 9th Street Italian Market Festival takes place in the heart of Bella Vista. Billed as “the city’s largest block party,” the street fair brings local residents and visitors from far and wide together for games, greased-pole climbing, music, arts and crafts, and food, food and more food – not all of it Italian. | Photo by L. Berckey for Visit Philadelphia

While Bella Vista will always have strong ties to the history of Philadelphia’s Italian community, the neighborhood has historically served as a starting-out point for new Philadelphians since it began to be settled in the 1840s.

The first inhabitants of Moyamensing Township were Irish immigrants and freed African-American slaves who had migrated up from the South. In the later decades of the 19th century, immigrants from Italy began pouring in, and the institutions they established continue to define the neighborhood today, none more so than the historic South 9th Street Market, known to all as the “Italian Market.”

Like the neighborhood around it, though, the market has changed with the times and reflects the arrival of new waves of immigrants from other parts of the world, most notably Mexican, Cambodian, and Vietnamese migrants who settled nearby. The neighborhood itself was one of the first to gentrify after the South Street Expressway was canceled in the 1970s, and as happened in Queen Village at the same time, real estate agents and city planners rechristened it to promote its revival and honor its Italian heritage. Today’s Bella Vista — its name means “beautiful sight” in Italian — is home to a mélange of natives and newcomers, oldtimers and younger folk, the just-getting-by and the already-arrived. All of them enjoy the neighborhood’s intimate lanes and colorful annual events.

Bella Vista Housing Prices at a Glance

Median single-family home value: $441,500

Median condominium value: $423,800

Median monthly rent: $1,652

What You Can Buy in Bella Vista

Bright MLS image via BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors

Spacious Full-Floor Condo in Historic Gated Community

619 Catharine St. #C2 | 3 beds, 3 baths, 3,300 square feet, $1,550,000

Bright MLS image via Philadelphia Home Collective / Compass Real Estate

Newer Townhome Around the Corner from the Italian Market

801 S. Darien St. | 3 beds, 2 full, 1 half baths, 2,213 square feet, $849,000

Bright MLS image via Keller Williams Realty

Bright, Cheery Trinity on Pedestrian Lane with Old World Charm

802 S. 6th St. #D | 2 beds, 1 bath, 624 square feet, $275,000

Public Transportation in Bella Vista

SEPTA Broad Street Line: Lombard-South or Ellsworth-Federal stations, three blocks west of the neighborhood

SEPTA Bus Routes: 23, northbound on 11th Street and southbound on 12th Street;  40, westbound on Lombard Street and eastbound on South Street (except for weekend evenings, when it runs eastbound on Pine Street); 47, northbound on 7th Street and southbound on 8th Street; 47m, northbound on 9th Street; 64, on Washington Avenue

Food Shopping in Bella Vista

Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Italian Market: The nation’s oldest outdoor curb market extends along 9th Street from Christian Street in Bella Vista to Passyunk Avenue in East Passyunk. Dozens of curbside vendors sell fruit and produce, and local merchants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds sell meats, fish, cheeses, spices and specialty foods from individual storefronts lining the sidewalks. A slew of restaurants and cafés also offer everything from coffee to breakfast to sandwiches to gourmet meals.

Supermarkets: Whole Foods Market, 929 South Street; Acme, 10th and South streets; Hung Vuong (East and Southeast Asian specialty supermarket), 12th Street and Washington Avenue

What A Real Estate Agent Says About Bella Vista

“Bella Vista is such a special part of Philadelphia. It’s full of old Philly charm and is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city. I think the development happening at Broad and Washington, combined with all of the development in surrounding neighborhoods like East Passyunk, Pennsport and Point Breeze, is really strengthening this beautiful pocket south of South. It’s rare to find a neighborhood that combines a commercial corridor like the Italian Market with such beautiful residential streets like Catharine and Fitzwater!”

—Skye Michiels, Real Estate with Heart, Keller Williams Philly

Photo: Great Spaces via Pinterest

Local Color

“Il nostro parca in America,” says Roberto Bardascino of Moncalieri, Italy, about the park at 10th and Carpenter streets that bears his family’s name. Created in 1977 on the site of a demolished community hospital, Bardascino Park is named for longtime Bella Vista resident Giuseppe Bardascino, who founded the Philadelphia Brass Band in 1912 and managed the Philadelphia Italian Band for 40 years. It’s one of only a handful of parks in the city that has an active (and well-used) bocce court.

Public domain image by smallbones via Wikimedia Commons

Did You Know?

The nation’s oldest historically black university traces its roots to Bella Vista. Cheyney University in Chester County was founded in 1839 as the Institute for Colored Youth, a school established by Quakers specifically to give African-American children instruction in the mechanical arts, trades, agriculture and teaching. Its first building, opened in 1852 at 716-18 Lombard St., no longer exists, but its larger second building at 915 Bainbridge St., built in 1865, still stands. Known as the Samuel J. Humphreys School after the ICY moved to George Cheyney’s farm in 1902, the building now serves as a condominium residence.

House price and rent data from Zillow Home Value Index and Zillow Rent Index, May 2018