Update: Church Of The Nativity Demo Underway


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.

1844 lithograph by Augustus Kollner of Napoleon LeBrun’s design for the Church of the Nativity | Library Company of Philadelphia

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.


  1. This Episcopal congregation merged with the nearby St Jude’s parish and ultimately moved to Montgomery County near Plymouth Meeting and it has until recently housed a Baptist congregation.

    The developer says the buildings were in good condition! Insanity.

  2. Sorry – I was mistaken it had been an African Methodist Episcopal church. But this is terrible to keep loosing the very structures that make cities visually interesting – it was only a couple of years back that on nearby Green Street a splendid former Presbyterian church was demolished. What we don’t need are another dozen ordinary looking row houses.

  3. What a waste of a beautiful and historic building. This city is terrible at historic preservation, we let these old buildings go down left and right so a developer can make a quick buck throwing up whatever cheap box buildings will take their place.

  4. It’s too bad that only atheists are moving into the neighborhood. Otherwise, there would be a real use for a church, not just preservation for no purpose other than harassing the new owners as the throughly odious Callowhill Neighborhood has done with the Church of the Assumption.

  5. Did the congregation that owned the church explore different options? If so, what were they?

  6. “He said that although both buildings appeared to be in good condition, structural issues with the church building made restoration too expensive.” This sounds oddly familiar. Wait, it IS familiar: the most frequently deployed pretext for demolition of historic buildings known to man. And who’s to challenge it? Under what authority? In a city whose preservation apparatus is in habitual, systemic disarray, we can expect such arguments to fly. Now might be a good time to start identifying and protecting historic resources again.

  7. I’m a bit confused. Was the church build in 1844 or 1909? I know you mentioned that it was “rebuilt”, but what exactly does that mean? Was the 1844 church in anyway incorporated into the newer church?

    • A good point – the LeBrun drawing doesn’t resemble the church as it was recently – perhaps portions were incorporated into the new building. Only a search of the parish records would give any indication in my experience as it’s a largely unknown church building.

  8. I grew up attending Ruffin Nichols Memorial AME Church. My mother, who passed on in 2000 had been a faithful member for over 50 plus years. In the early 1990’s when her health began to fail, we sold her house in Germantown and she came to live with me in Northern Virginia. Her funeral was held at Ruffin Nichols and she is interred in Glenside, PA. We originally lived at James Weldon Johnson Projects at 27th and Ridge, then at Penn Town Apartments at 8th and Fairmount before moving the Germantown in the 1950’s. I remember riding the 23 trolley from Germantown and Chelten to the church every Sunday morning. Needless to say, there is much history. As in many Philadelphia churches, the congregation aged and the attendance dropped. I know about the bowling alleys in the basement and the manual pin setters. Rev. Stevenson was the first pastor I remember.

    I would appreciate any information that can be ascertained on the last congregation.


  1. Smart card timeline | LeBrun church demo | upscale on 52nd St | inside Hotel Monaco | Parkwood dissed by O’Neill
  2. Ruffin Nichols Memorial AME Church Demo Underway [slideshow]
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