Waaaaaay back in 2012, we told you about plans for the creation of a superblock in Mantua, combining the four square blocks encompassed by 36th Street, 38th Street, Haverford Ave., and Wallace St., which was to be occupied by a suburban-style supermarket and a sea of surface parking. This plan never materialized for a host of reasons. In 2018, new plans emerged for this site, dramatically improving upon the previous iteration. The new concept halved the footprint, eliminating the plans west of 37th Street, still included a supermarket, and also called for close to 200 residential units. The project evolved further in the following years, reducing the unit count to 162 but adding a medical center. It also picked up the moniker “Village Square on Haverford.” Here’s the site plan for the project from a few years ago, with credit to WRT Design.

Site plan from a few years ago

In every iteration of this project, the property at 3617 Haverford Ave. was always separated out from the rest of the development. While the City was able to buy out the owners of the surrounding properties through the eminent domain process, resident and artist James Dupree engaged in a prolonged fight to hold out. And indeed, he was ultimately successful. Somewhat hilariously, Dupree sold his studio in an arms-length transaction 2021, and his funky studio was demolished soon after the sale. The property is still sitting vacant today.

View in the past
Current view

But it looks like this property won’t be sitting empty for much longer. Just last week, the owners of the property pulled a zoning permit for a by-right four-story mixed-use building which will include 22 apartments and a small retail space on Haverford. The zoning drawings only include some basic elevations, but let’s agree that no new building will look as cool as the building that stood here until a few years ago.

Looking toward 37th Street
Looking toward 36th Street

While plans are coming into focus for 3617 Haverford Ave., we are seeing no action from Village Square on Haverford on this block. As you can see in the site plan above, the plans call for four buildings on the 3600 block of Haverford, with the westernmost building including the long awaited supermarket. Your guess is as good as ours as to when work will get moving for these buildings.

But if you look to the 3600 block of Mount Vernon, you’ll see that something is indeed happening. Two new buildings are up, with one fronting Mount Vernon and the other fronting Wallace Street.

View from 37th & Mount Vernon
Building on Mount Vernon
Building on Wallace

These buildings will each contain 16 units, representing the first batch of apartments that will make up a much larger whole in Village Square on Haverford. It’s worth noting that these buildings are not shown in the site plan above and look to be replacing duplexes or triplexes, so clearly the plans for this project have continued to evolve over the last couple years. We wonder what else has changed for this project, and are also curious to know when we’ll start seeing construction on the Haverford Avenue portion of the site.

Even with all this uncertainty, there’s a lot to like about what we’re seeing here. After more than a decade of planning, the first units in this project look like they could come online by the end of the year. This is perhaps the most encouraging, and suggests that more construction should be happening here soon. As an added bonus, we now have visibility on the future of the site of the former studio on Haverford Avenue. Even though that building won’t necessarily be a holistic part of the larger project, it’s great that it will be developed and won’t be sitting vacant as the rest of the area gets built up. Of course, this is all just an extended lead-up to the main event, the supermarket that we will eventually see rise here. This part of West Philadelphia has been a fresh food desert for too many years, and we eagerly await the arrival of this proverbial oasis.