With a deteriorating roof, artifacts like WWI memorial tablets left inside, and trash strewn about its colonnaded rotunda, the empty Germantown Town Hall is perhaps the most visible symbol of Germantown Avenue’s decline.
John Elliott Churchville, the CEO of Liberation Fellowship Community Development Corporation, wants to transform the city-owned building into the crown “gem” of a larger green business district along Germantown Avenue.
In 1923, John Sinkler built the Town Hall, which was inspired by the Greek Revival Merchant’s Exchange Building in Old City. Located at 5928 Germantown Avenue, the Town Hall is one of many unique old buildings that make Germantown Avenue among the longest historic roadways in the country. It has been vacant since 1998.
Through a partnership with Philadelphia University’s School of Architecture, Churchville and several graduate students have created a plan to develop Town Hall as a multi-use, LEED-certified facility that could be home to a bank, cultural center, green business incubator, health clinic or city offices.
Eighth District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s office is skeptical.
“The Councilwoman is always open for ideas to rehabilitate Town Hall, but unfortunately those ideas don’t usually have the necessary funds,” said Michael Moore, Miller’s communications director. “And unfortunately, the city’s strapped for cash.”
Churchville admits that the plan is nascent, but as president of the Germantown Business Association, he’s confident he can raise the funds. Miller’s office says the preservation would cost about $20 million, while the Central Germantown Council cites a lower figure: $10 to $15 million. According to a feasibility study by UCI Architects, the restorers must fix the roof, paint and reseal the windows, and repair the exterior’s cast stone walls, among other things.
Philadelphia University’s architecture students will present their plan for the Town Hall at Smith House (3460 School House Lane, 215-951-2253) on Dec. 7 at 1 p.m. They will also discuss their larger plan for a green business district along Germantown Avenue.
Recently, community members created an on-line petition that calls on the city to take responsibility for Town Hall, which it owns, and fund its rehabilitation.
“I believe it is time for the city to show its support for Germantown,” Lillian Hightower wrote, “as it has for other areas of the city, by beginning with this important landmark renovation.”