Keeping watch over the flock at the old Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera House is just one of Philadelphia’s many aging buildings. But the massive structure on North Broad Street at Poplar is not vacant — members of the Holy Ghost Headquarters church meet there even though weeds are growing out of the exterior walls. 

To say it looks rough inside the Metropolitan Opera House is a huge understatement. Shards of wood and fallen pieces of the walls and ceiling litter the floor. 

That’s where church member and neighborhood resident James Johnson comes in. He picks up a broom he’s fashioned out of pipes duct-taped together to form an extra long handle.

And then he demonstrates how he helps keep this crumbling giant on life support: pulling chunks of the ceiling off the tarp where they have fallen — to protect the space underneath where the churchgoers meet. 

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“Quite a few times on the tarp, if you get too much build up on there, if we do, then we get these big long brooms right there to keep it clean. Back then, there probably was plaster of Paris or something they would put in these buildings or something,” Johnson says. “I’m not sure.”

A bunch of wooden ladders sits nearby. Johnson says they have a purpose too.

“We had brought them up here to climb up there, you know, to get out the different places on the balcony,” he says. “We’d nail up something around here that we’re not using, you know, to keep the birds and everything out.”

Johnson pulls back a tarp over the wall and suddenly the space is open to the outside. “See back here is like the balcony,” he says. “See this is Broad Street right here.”

This is just one of many once-grand buildings on North Broad Street awaiting a new life.

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