Despite the never-ending winter, the citizens of Mantua are helping to keep this blossoming community a warm place. Sometimes it’s all about who you know. Here are the five people you need to know in Mantua.
(Above: St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church on Spring Garden Street has been standing tall since 1874, but is now an apartment complex known as The Cloisters. The church sat vacant for decades before being bought by Pennrose Properties in the early nineties. | Photo: Michael Wojcik)
1. James Dupree
Thousands of artists have had pieces of their own hang in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One of Philadelphia’s more famous artists still lives right in the heart of Mantua. Currently locked in a heated battle with the city and developers, who are hoping that he will relocate to make way for a grocery store on the lot on which his house and studio both stand. Even though Dupree has been fighting for his studios, he plans to stay in Mantua and keep producing art that reflects the neighborhood’s struggle with drugs and poverty in the past and its “blossoming into an Eden” in the future.
2. Joe and Pat Boyd
People that know a neighborhood the best are those that have lived there for all their lives. Joe Boyd, owner of Black Star Hardware and Supply has been living on the same street in Mantua since he was five years old. After marrying his wife, Pat Boyd, they decided to stay in Mantua and raise their family there.
“I don’t sell this stuff to keep the lights on, I keep the store open so the kids know they have someone looking out for them.”
Boyd also serves on the board of the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.
“If they wanted to make a difference and integrate with the community,” he said, “I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
3. John Lee
Not many businesses can say they’ve thrived in Mantua but almost all of them can say they have definitely seen a change in the neighborhood. John Le and his family have been operating their corner store since 1994 at the corner of 36th street and Spring Garden. Selling all kinds of items from laundry detergent for the neighboring laundromat to a hidden gem of a cheesesteak for only $4.99. Le’s job consists not only of selling candy bars and Arizona drinks to residents of Mantua: his cash register has basically become a stage for his neighborhood-centric stand-up routine.
“I definitely want to see the place get better,” he said. “It used to be really bad but the colleges have come and kind of cleaned up the place.”
4. Dr. John Davis and Steve Davis
Picking up an existing church and placing it into a new community is not something easy for a startup congregation to do. The Davis brothers have done exactly that with their congregation at Grace Lutheran Church at 35th and Haverford Ave. After attempting to start a congregation in Powelton Village, The Davis brothers had a tough time gaining new members in a neighborhood that was 80 percent students.
“We needed a stronger congregation of families and since this neighborhood was mainly poor African-Americans, we felt that this was a place for us to step in and help,” he said.
John Davis holds a beautiful, music-based service at 4 p.m. on Sundays. After the service, members of the community are welcome to a meal with members and leaders of the church.
5. Rob Swift
Rob Swift’s studio headquarters sits on the border of Powelton Village and Mantua. While Swift spends most days educating new musicians in the ways of the guitar, on weekends he likes to host social gatherings with some prominent people he has made friends with in the industry. He hopes that guests will network and continue the flowing of all types of music through the Philadelphia area. Who would have thought you could learn classical or rock guitar in one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods?
All text and photos by Patrick McPeak and Michael Wojcik