The Church of the Nativity on 11th and Mt. Vernon Streets, built in 1844 by noted Philadelphia architect Napoleon LeBrun, is in the process of being torn down. An adjacent building that housed classrooms, a convent, ballroom and small chapel, and once featured a bowling alley and basketball court, will also be demolished.
Demolition made the most financial sense, according to developer and co-owner Anthony Randazzo of Keystone Custom Builders. He said that although both buildings appeared to be in good condition, structural issues with the church building made restoration too expensive.
Randazzo and his partners plan to build 12 townhouses on the site. They hope to begin construction in spring 2013, but Randazzo said that date is uncertain because the necessary building permits have yet to be obtained.
The church will appear in November on the National Geographic show “Abandoned.” The salvage company featured on the show removed a number of the items from the vacant buildings and sold them on EBay. Some of the schist masonry from the two structures will find a home in a community garden planned for 13th and Mt. Vernon.
The Ruffin Nichols Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, the last congregation to make the Church of the Nativity its home, moved out two years ago, and sold the property to Randazzo and his other investors for approximately $700,000. The Church of the Nativity is one of the properties we highlighted last September, in an article about the need to find adaptive reuses for the large number of churches for sale throughout the city.
A Protestant Episcopal congregation hired LeBrun, who worked in the offices of Thomas Ustick Walter, to design the church in 1844. The building was completed in the Gothic Revival style in 1846. LeBrun would go on to design the Academy of Music on South Broad Street and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Logan Square along with John Notman. The church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1909, and lost its steeple to lightning in 1979.
About the author
Rachel Hildebrandt, a recent graduate of PennDesign, is a native Philadelphian who is passionate about the changing city she inhabits. Before beginning her graduate studies in historic preservation with a focus on policy, Rachel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College and co-authored two books, The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) and Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan (2011). She currently works as a program associate at Partners for Sacred Places.