Living in the Powelton neighborhood, Mantua Hall, in adjacent Mantua at 36th Street & Fairmount Avenue, had become a familiar sight over time. It was an 18-storey highrise housing project visible from University City and the Schuylkill Expressway. So, of course, it was exciting to witness its implosion in March of 2008. I was a block west at the intersection of 37th & Melon Streets. Then, it was even more exciting to attend the four public meetings that spring in which the Philadelphia Housing Authority discussed their plans to rebuild the site and add some new townhomes on the surrounding blocks.
The plan they had was to rebuild the entire block bordered by Fairmount Avenue, Wallace Street, 35th & 36th Streets with walk up apartments surrounding parking and a courtyard. The Fairmount Avenue side was to have stores across the street from the McMichael School. Then they would build six clusters of townhouses on the surrounding blocks. They applied for a federal HOPE VI grant, a competitive grant program for rebuilding public housing, for the construction.
What is being built there now is almost identical to the original plans, except they are building three clusters of townhouses on the surrounding blocks, instead of six. That’s because the Housing Authority didn’t receive the HOPE VI grant, but did receive other federal funding, including money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal economic stimulus program. The new housing, called Mantua Square, will have many of the same residents as the old project, but those with any recent criminal records will be prohibited. The intention is to have a mix of lower middle class and low income residents in a safe environment. The retail on Fairmount Avenue will help create a sense of community along with the school, bring badly needed retail to Mantua, and perhaps provide business and job opportunities to neighborhood residents. The additional townhouses on surrounding blocks include a duplex at 36th & Wallace, two homes with mansard rooves on 36th below Wallace, and some duplexes on Wallace east of 35th Street.
The new development has already created renewed interest in Mantua, west of 34th Street. Neighboring homes were going for approximately $250,000 just before the implosion, a significant increase from the 5-figure average prices in the neighborhood before redevelopment. Buildings adjacent to and surrounding the Mantua Square development are being renovated at an increasing rate. Mantua has reached the point where there is at least one renovation project on each block, and sometimes several. The neighborhood will see further change due to the Union Hill development, a development of about 50 large, affordable townhouses, a couple of blocks west of Mantua Square, centered around 39th & 40th Streets. These homes are slowly selling off, with about a dozen homes already occupied and another dozen or so with “sold” marked on the doors. Also, the whole neighborhood is in the catchment area of the School of the Future in Fairmount Park; adjacent to Lancaster Avenue, which has just had a large streetscape improvement; and within walking distance of Drexel University and Fairmount Park (and two bridges on 40th & 41st Streets, over the railroad tracks leading to Fairmount Park, are being rebuilt). The redevelopment of Mantua is going at a strong pace. And, it is happening with a mix of housing for people of all incomes.