West Philly

Great work by PHS and the community

Named after the Italian city where Virgil lived in ancient times, Mantua in West Philadelphia, was place where homes of considerable size were constructed in the 19th century. Trolley lines were extended into West Philly in 1858—and afterwards Mantua grew rapidly while West Philadelphia developed into a streetcar suburb. Mantua was even, at one point, the first stop on the Main Line.

Today, Mantua is is a changing neighborhood. While some blocks have been well maintained over the years, other have fallen into blight and vacancy. But the neighborhood's proximity to Penn and especially Drexel has resulted in revived interest from developers, with new student housing dotting many Mantua blocks. But there's still plenty of vacancy, particularly in the northern parts of the neighborhood.

Map of Mantua

At 37th & Brown, improvement has appeared at one vacant lot, where sits an urban garden with 50 raised beds- one of five PHS Green Resource Centers. Basically this garden, the Mantua Urban Peace Garden, is a place for neighbors and other urban farmers to grow fresh produce while adding to the neighborhood's physical beauty. Leased on 2.5 acres of land from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the formerly vacant lot now grows a spread of greens—kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, herbs and more.

Building could finally get the renovation it craves

Early this new year across the school district, new charter schools are looking for homes—and as many as 12 are interested in laying roots in West Philly, according to the West Philly Local.  One proposal would turn a part of the disused former West Philadelphia High School at 4700 Walnut St. into the Philadelphia Music and Dance Charter School.

View of just one section of the school

Back in the fall of 2012 we announced plans from Strong Place Partners, a New York firm that wanted to purchase the property and renovate the former school into 300 apartments and 15K sqft of ground-floor retail. Since then, the building has remained as it last stood when students multiplied two sides of an equation by X, and graffiti has joined the facade in addition to general wear. For all sights, the building stands out as an entire block where nothing but old an empty building is happening, and across the street stretches a vacant lot where grass grows, slow now, freezing sometimes in winter.

Closed for now, but will another franchisee step in?

At 46th & Baltimore in West Philly, Subway is closed, but Jared and his gang still have plans to sell sandwiches at this location. The original franchise operator has left and Subway is looking for another, according to Barry Grossbach, Spruce Hill Community Association zoning chair.

Shuttered Subway

“I could only tell you I asked the zoning attorney on our zoning committee to see what he could find out,” Grossbach said. “Evidently, and this is the only thing we know, they [Subway] are looking for another franchise operator.”

When the Subway proposal came before the SHCA two years ago after the sandwich chain announced plans to take over a long-vacant corner location at 4533 Baltimore Ave. along the Baltimore Avenue Commercial Corridor, a handful of neighbors decried the proposal because of fears: traffic and big business. First, customers would create parking issues; it's located next to an alley and driveways behind 46th Street homes, they envisioned hungry Subway shoppers zipping down in cars on their way to and from work. Then was the fact Subway is a chain franchise as opposed to an independent small business, on a corridor full of the latter. The store opened in the spring of 2012, entering into a 10-year lease.

For now it's just a bunch of steel

It seems that Penn is always building something these days. Some stuff, like a new college house on Hill Field, we've covered already. Other stuff, like the new building under construction on 38th Street, we didn't even realize was happening until a reader tipped us off. This despite the fact that the construction has clearly been going on since the summer.

Building is framed out
Older building next door

According to the Penn website, this will be an expansion of the Lynch Laboratories and will serve the Biology and Psychologys departments at Penn. The building will house research laboratories, teaching facilities, and spaces designed for interactions to foster the kind of cross-disciplinary work that increasingly characterizes work in these fields. Oh, and it's gonna look super awesome.

How did we not hear about this before?

The parts of Mantua closest to Drexel have seen a ton of construction in recent years, and the redevelopment is seemingly continuing unabated. Construction is taking place in all shapes and sizes, with one-off projects joined by massive buildings and everything in between. Looking down 34th Street, we see various examples of the different types of development in the area.

On 34th Street between Hamilton and Spring Garden, a 28-unit project has been framed and sheathed. Remember, we first told you about this project over the summer, when a building that previously housed an old deli had just been demolished. Just north of Haverford Avenue, also on 34th Street, an old home was torn down a couple of years ago and a new apartment building is under construction.

Project at 34th & Spring Garden

In between those projects, yet another residential development is underway. Somehow, we weren't aware that the building at 34th & Brandywine, most recently the New Hope Primitive Baptist Church and originally the 34th Street Baptist Church, was in danger of being demolished. Passing by a couple of weeks ago though, we saw that the beautiful building from the late 1800s is now gone.