Baker Street Partners owners, Steve Olszewski and Andy Mulson, are financially – and nostalgically – invested in the community.
By Noel Bartocci
Photos by Melissa Kelly Photography (melissakellyphotography.com)
A home is more than a house. It’s more than just where you sleep and where you store your stuff. A home extends to the community around you—where you grew up, the friends you’ve kept for decades, and the memories you’ve made along the way. To honor your home and your community, you invest in it. You restore, rehabilitate, and celebrate whatever originality you can. It’s hard, laborious work, but Steve Olszewski and Andy Mulson of Baker Street Partners love the challenge.
If you’ve ever taken an extended walk around Manayunk or Roxborough, then you’ve without a doubt stumbled upon the work of Baker Street Partners, a locally owned and operated real estate developer, which prides itself on restorations, rehabilitation, and new construction that compliments the surrounding community’s look and feel. Which is of course a look and feel that they’ve intimately contributed to their entire lives.
“As real estate developers, we pride ourselves on being responsible. The core of our work, our focus, is the northwestern section of the city, mostly Manayunk and Roxborough, because this is our home.”
Steve and Andy have been in business with one another for 15 years, but the foundation of their professional partnership was built well before that. “Andy and I have known each other since high school,” Steve notes in his confident cadence. He regales me with the story in a softer tone, eschewing any preconceived notion that to develop real estate, you must be blunt.
“Me and our friend CJ started renovating houses together, and Andy and his father were doing the same thing. Building houses, but a few years before us. They were doing it longer,” clarifying the timing, he continued. “We all connected on a project, partnering up on a development behind Dobson’s school,” referring to James Dobson Elementary School, off Umbria St. “From there, we’ve been working together ever since. But we all grew up with each other. Back then, we were just boys hanging out.”
Andy speaks at a higher decibel level than Steve, arms crossed with a naturally stoic presence. However, he pulls off this demeanor of authority without an ounce of unfriendliness. I get the impression that validation from Andy comes heavily weighted. The two partners play off one another in a way that can only exist in the presence of trust and mutual respect.
“Steve and I went to Roman [Catholic High School] and hung out in the neighborhood together,” Andy explains. “It wasn’t until around ’07 when we eventually joined up and became partners. That’s from a business perspective, but from a friendship perspective, it was years before that.”
As they tell the story of how they ventured into business together, I couldn’t help but notice how it seemed to happen in the best way possible—organically. “They were doing their thing [Steve and CJ] and me and my father were doing our thing. Of course, we would talk about work and run stuff by each other, but we didn’t work on anything together until then, and have ever since.”
It would be a few more years before the entity known as Baker Street Partners would officially form. Steve, explaining the name, “It comes from being on Baker Street. Baker & Carson, specifically. A good friend of ours’ Mom lives there and we would hang out on the stoop—that was our first home office.” After a laugh, he reminisced, “We raised hell on Baker Street for many years. I lived on St. Davids. Andy lived on Flamingo in Roxborough. It just made sense to have that kind of origin story to our company.”
Today, joined by both Steve’s brother and Andy’s son, Baker Street Partners has completed some of the most impressive development projects in the Manayunk/Roxborough area (don’t believe me, just look at Parish House Manayunk).
“We renovate single-family homes and new construction single homes that we build and sell, but we also consider ourselves restoration experts,” Steve explains, further describing their offerings. “We’ve done several churches and adapted-for-use projects. We’ve run the gamut, pretty much. A lot of different development opportunities,” hammering the core of his comments home, he adds. “Specifically around here. We like to think we have a good reputation for being honest local guys. What we say we’re doing, we do.” Andy nods along as Steve describes the intent to create a relationship with their community, one built on trust and familiarity.
“When we did the St. Lucy’s development on Green Lane, that had the recipe to be very contentious with the neighbors.” Steve is referring to a series of adaptive reuse projects that would transform the church, school building, and rectory into family homes, apartments, and adequate parking for the influx of residents. For those newer to the area, that includes what is now the East Main and Greenview apartment buildings.
Rehabilitating and repurposing a building with so much history comes with unique challenges, the least of which are surrounding residents’ expectations. Both Steve and Andy leveraged their familiarity with the neighborhood to get in front of as many concerns as they could.
“With us literally being kids that hung out on the street corner from there, we went to all the neighbors behind the scenes and said, ‘We’re going to buy St. Lucy’s, and here’s what we want to do – what do you think about this?’” The potentially dangerous tactic opened them up to criticism, “We got the good, the bad, and ugly—a mix of what they didn’t want to see, want to see, and everything else.”
The neighborhood outreach, however, did make their intentions clear for nearby residents, which goes a long way regarding trust from the community. Their desire to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood was evident in their plans. Andy adds, “When you look at the facade on Green Lane, it was purposely built like that to look like the houses and structures that were there for well over 100 years. We probably could’ve stuffed a couple more houses in there, but we looked at the ratio of parking too, and that contributed to our plan.” “When we walk down Main Street, we see faces every day that we’ve known our entire lives and luckily, we don’t have to worry about running from them.”
Greenview is just one of their numerous completed projects around the neighborhood, most beautifully realized as a blend of modern comforts and historic aesthetics (again, check out Parish House). Steve and Andy were also gracious enough to take me on a tour of their current development, which is nearly complete. Located at 4328 Main Street, this new building will be a premier retail space on the first floor with four modern apartments on the second and third floors.
Walking through the framed and not-quite-yet wired interiors, it was already clear that this space is going to be special. Even without walls, you can see the care and extra details they put into the floor layout. Slightly wider staircases for moving furniture, nearly body length windows that capitalize on the natural light and canal views, and finally, the amazing roof decks for the eventual third-floor tenets. Standing on the roof, looking out across the hills of Manayunk and Roxborough, I immediately envied the people who will eventually make this their home.
For Baker Street Partners, it’s about development and investment. Investment into a community for which they carry deep respect. It’s not unlike how they describe their working relationship.
“No titles—just partners,” Andy very succinctly puts it, further explaining. “The biggest thing is that you need to have each other’s best interests in mind. When I make a decision on our behalf, it’s not a matter of one of us doing better— it’s a matter of both of us succeeding. For the collective whole to be where we both want it to be, not only for each other, but for our families.”
A home is more than a house, just as a community is more than a collection of buildings. In talking with Andy and Steve about all things Baker Street Partners, it’s also clear to me that friendship, family, and business can successfully mesh into something more than just another real estate developer.