mantua

Mantua: The unofficial sister city to Romeo’s safe-haven that’s working to turn blight around

It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, community centers and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Mantua? Buy the stuff.

Two hundred years ago, Mantua started out as a small development for Philadelphia’s rich to get away from the noise of the city. It was even named after a beautiful Italian town. After years of neglect, Mantua and its residents are working to rejuvenate the West Philly neighborhood and steer its reputation away from gang violence — and of the specter of Kermit Gosnell, the infamous late-term abortion doctor convicted of murder.

Boundaries

Mantua is bordered to the north by Mantua Avenue, to the east by 31st Street, to south by Spring Garden Street and to the west by 40th Street.

Population

5,584

Population Age 20-to-34

1,152 (21 percent)

Rent vs. Own

1,445 vs. 675 (68 percent vs. 32 percent)

Median Rents and Home Values

The median home value is $72,800 and the median rent is $1,295

Racial composition

Name origin

Mantua was named by Judge Richard Peters after the Italian city Mantua, where “Aeneid” author Virgil was from and where Shakespeare wrote that Romeo escaped after he left fair Verona.

History

First settled in the 1800s, Mantua was home to wealthy homeowners who had more space than in Center City Philadelphia for their large houses. Those early-era suburbanites would start moving to communities farther west by the dawn of the 20th century. Then in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, Mantua really started to change.

The neighborhood went from working class and racially-mixed to 90 percent-plus black and too often blighted. The population has dwindled throughout the years — nearly 20,000 lived there in 1950 —  and poverty levels increased with the withdrawal of manufacturing jobs and the cocaine epidemic of the ’80s. More than half of Mantua’s residents live below the poverty line and an estimated 96 percent of children under age 5 live in poverty.

Though some Drexel students have started moving in from bordering Powelton Village, and the neighborhood is considered to be on the rise (the median rent nearly equals the Philadelphia median), Mantua has a long way to go. One of the more-recent signs of progress is the Mantua Greenway. It started with a longtime resident’s garden and has since gotten state funding.

Backdrop

Some good news for Mantua: The neighborhood was designated by President Barack Obama to be part of a Promise Zone, along with Powelton Village and some other nearby neighborhoods. What exactly does this mean? Mantua will be given priority for applying for federal aid the next 10 years. How the neighborhood can use that status to its advantage remains to be seen.

The House of Horrors Doctor

Infamous abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s clinic was located in Powelton Village, but he lived in Mantua, at 32nd Street and Mantua Avenue. Gosnell was convicted on three counts of murder for the grisly work he did at his clinic and is serving three life sentences. His house, a massive Victorian-era estate, is currently abandoned. When Feds investigated him in 2010, they found his house to be a dilapidated mess, overrun with fleas.

What Used to Be

An old row house at 3711 Melon St. It seems odd to highlight just one of many row houses that has gone vacant or been torn down over the years, but that’s what happened as part of “Funeral For a Home.” Local community leaders, artists and historians put on the event as a way to celebrate a changing neighborhood. NewsWorks covered the event and it made the national NPR website.

Thing to Check Out

The Spiral Q Puppet Theater. On the border of Mantua, Spiral Q uses theater to encourage the growth of arts in the community. The work they do goes far beyond puppets and the stage. Spiral Q holds parades and pageants that bring its art outside.

Controversy

The murder of Miles Mack in 2008. Mack, 42, was a community leader in Mantua, a basketball coach who founded a league as a way to curb violence in the neighborhood. On the court at McAlpin Playground, he was gunned down, along with a 19-year-old basketball player. The death of Mack provided a particularly sad reminder that Mantua has many problems to solve.

Instagram this

The Dr. Herman Wrice mural. Wrice was a community organizer who helped stop gang violence in West Philly and founded the group Mantua Against Drugs.

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