Just north of Drexel University’s campus sits a small, tightly knit community called Mantua. With bordering streets from Spring Garden Street to Mantua Avenue and 31st to 40th streets. A mainly residential neighborhood, Mantua has struggled in the past with drug-related crimes and deep poverty. The residents are predominantly working-class Philadelphians dedicated to keeping their community safe and developing with Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. A few businesses have been in Mantua for years, while others recently relocated to the West Philadelphia neighborhood. Here is a short list of places, new and old, that you should check out.
[Above: A condemned home remains across the street from the West Bethlehem Baptist Church. |Photo: Michael Wojcik]
1. James Dupree Studios
Along the 3600 block of Haverford Avenue lies a true Philadelphia gem. Legendary artist and Philadelphia native James Dupree has turned his former garage into a living piece of art. The mural on the front of the building is a polyphonic explosion of color completed by the artist himself. If you’re lucky, Mr. Dupree himself will give you a personal tour of his massive ten-room gallery. Later this year, he plans to hold open-house tours to the public.
2. Swift Music Works
Ever wish you played the guitar? Guitar savant Rob Swift runs a recording studio that doubles as a guitar classroom on the corner of 37th and Spring Garden streets. With more than 15 years of experience combined with an easy-going and motivated attitude, Swift has been rightfully dubbed Philadelphia’s guitar instructor. Swift also brings bands from around Philly and the region to perform at his house. Although Swift may be the brains of the operation he calls the “Nomad House,” the star of the show is his dog, Otis.
3. West Philadelphia Community Center
Located at 3512 Haverford Avenue, the West Philadelphia Community Center serves the residents of Mantua with after school programs for students ranging from pre-K to high school and even offering programs for seniors. With two floors and 40,000 square feet, the WPCC is full of facilities kids of all ages can enjoy: computer labs, a gym which is getting fully renovated in the next year and an Olympic-size pool. The WPCC has it all.
4. Thee Shop Plaza
There is nothing like a good old-fashioned haircut. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard knows this all too well. Any time The Big Piece needs a quick shape up, he trucks over to 33rd and Spring Garden and the boys of Thee Shop Plaza. One of the best barbershops in Philadelphia is located right at the edge of Mantua. Barber Nafis Williams keeps a relaxed atmosphere in the place, just like any great barber should . Other big name customers include Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and former Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Who knows? Maybe if you’re cool enough, you might get to sign their signature wall.
5. Black Star Supply Co.
Throughout the years, big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have put the small mom-and-pop hardware stores out of business. Mr. Joe and Ms. Pat Boyd refuse to let the “big guys” put them down. Their Black Star Hardware and Supply Company is located right behind Thee Shop Plaza on 33rd street. The Boyds have not just sold the community home improvement supplies. Mr. Boyd serves on the Dornsife Center for Community Outreach’s board of trustees. Deeply involved in community development, Black Star Hardware even sold developers from Drexel the new windows for the renovation project at Dornsife. Stop by in the summer for the best water ice in the city and even better gossip from Ms. Pat.
– Text and images by Patrick McPeak and Michael Wojcik.