Developer moves ahead with demolition of West Girard monastery

A developer moved ahead last week with the beginning of demolition of two 19th-century brownstone mansions on West Girard Avenue that had once served as a monastery for the Poor Clares, a contemplative order of nuns.

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation has sought to preserve the brownstones and the Romanesque stone chapel that links them, and work with the developer on the appearance, size and density of the residential complex planned for the site at West Girard Avenue and Corinthian Street.

In response to questions from PlanPhilly about the plans for the site, Joseph Beller, the attorney for the developer, 2012 West Girard Associates, wrote: “There are other plans being studied at the present time. If one is adopted, there will be meetings with the appropriate organizations.”

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The developer had met with FNDC five years ago with a proposal for 17 residential units and parking space. The community approved that plan, but it was never implemented. Early this year, the developer returned with a plan for 42 units plus parking. The community rejected that proposal at meeting on June 13 by a vote of 53-1.

At the time, Beller said he had been told that preserving the buildings was not a “viable alternative,” and changes in the real estate market required changes in the development plan.

The brownstone homes at 2012-30 West Girard were built in the 1890s. The corner property became the Monastery of St. Clare in 1918. The chapel was erected a year later, and the other house and adjacent green space were purchased as the religious community grew. The Poor Clares moved to 17 acres in Langhorne, Bucks County, in 1977.

Penelope Giles, FNDC executive director, describes the West Girard corridor as the “most historic section of our neighborhood.”

The monastery buildings are part of the Girard Avenue National Register Historic District, but they are not on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

Maria Mathopoullos, who last year moved into a brownstone a few doors down from the monastery buildings, was not familiar with their history. “But I feel like it’s got to be something of a landmark. I like the buildings,” she said. “I wish they turned them into something, rather than tear them down.”

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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