Patching 19th Street Baptist Church to buy time for its future

With sweat equity, generous donations, and building supplies purchased through a modest emergency grant, comes hope for the 19th Street Baptist Church, a historic Frank Furness-designed building in Point Breeze.

Aaron Wunsch, professor in PennDesign's historic preservation program, on scaffolding during roof repairs. | photo by Melissa Jest, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
(Aaron Wunsch, professor in PennDesign's historic preservation program, on scaffolding during roof repairs. | photo by Melissa Jest, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia)

As I previously reported in early December, members of the preservation and design community (academics, advocates, conservators, builders) are working with the congregation to figure out how to address the building’s dire needs. And the National Trust for Historic Preservation answered a grant request, providing $1,500 to fund temporary, emergency repairs.

On Wednesday, I heard from Aaron Wunsch, a professor in Penn’s historic preservation program who was instrumental in securing the emergency grant, that supplies were bought and work has started. Wunsch has been working alongside volunteers, members of the congregation, and staff from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to reinforce compromised structural elements and cover holes in the church’s roof.

Rainy days and winter snows will do this church no favors, so volunteers are working with the limited budget, racing against time to do what they can to seal the building’s biggest holes.

Rev. Vincent Smith (at left) and Deacon Lloyd Butler in front of building materials purchased using a $1,500 emergency grant. | photo by Aaron Wunsch
(Rev. Vincent Smith (at left) and Deacon Lloyd Butler in front of building materials purchased using a $1,500 emergency grant. | photo by Aaron Wunsch)

Today’s Daily News checked in on the efforts and 19th Street Baptist Church, and offers a broader portrait of Philadelphia’s religious institutions struggling to maintain or save their buildings. It’s a tough row to hoe. But the partners helping 19th Street Baptist Church hope to do enough to secure the building now, so that it’s future isn’t decided for them. With the repairs, comes hope that the a creative, phased rehabilitation plan  – and a strategy to fund it – can be developed.

For now, a little corrugated metal and faith in the building’s future could go a long way.

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Donations to 19th Street Baptist Church may be made payable to the church and sent c/o Reverend W. Wilson Goode Sr., 2000 Market Street Suite 550 Philadelphia, Pa 19103 (Yes, that W. Wilson Goode, Sr.)

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