Historic Philly church, once preserved, now faces demolition

    The 160-year old Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia last year was a target for preservation, but the Philadelphia Historical Commission has changed its mind. It now sides with the building’s owners who believe it to be too costly to save.

    A Philadelphia church that is due to be knocked down was a candidate for preservation just a year ago. Now the owners of the 160-year old Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street have a green light for demolition.

    But why did the Historical Commission reverse itself?

    In April 2009 the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted to protect the Church as an historic building because of its architecture and its association with two Catholic saints. But the current owner – a non-profit that helps seniors with AIDS – didn’t want that designation. Just the opposite. To them the building is an albatross requiring millions of dollars in renovation.

    Last week the commission relented and will allow the structure to be demolished.

    John Gallery of the Historic Preservation Alliance says the Commission based its earlier decision to save the church on the significance of the building, not its condition.

    “But that does mean that you can find an owner that comes back and says, ‘under your own financial hardship rules, this building can’t be feasibly used,’ and therefore ask you to demolish it,” Gallery says. “Procedurally, the commission was acting correctly, even though it looks confusing.”

    Gallery says a new owner should be sought before destroying the church. Preservationists plan to appeal with Commission’s decision.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.