In Closed Door Session, Historical Commission Members Vote To Uphold Demolition Permit For Assumption

 

Photo: Matthew Christopher

Photo: Matthew Christopher

The Philadelphia Historical Commission met in an executive session before today’s monthly meeting to discuss the pending demolition case of the Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street. After forty minutes, the board officially convened and delivered its opinion that the demolition permit is valid for the present owner.

The Commission chair, Sam Sherman, Jr., stated that the Commission agreed unanimously that the permit, issued to the present owner, John Wei of MJ Central Investments, is subject to the building, not the ownership (for insight on what that means, click HERE), and should be upheld by the Board of L&I Review, which had requested its opinion on the matter on Tuesday.

Sherman clarified that the opinion is just that, an opinion, and that L&I Review retains jurisdiction over the appeal of the permit.

Also present at the session, held behind closed doors, were executive director Jonathan Farnham and City solicitor Andrew Ross. Testimony from the appealing attorney, Samuel Stretton, was also considered in the session, according to Sherman. However, Stretton was not permitted to register his objection to the opinion on record, and no public comments on the case were heard by the board.

The Commission then proceeded to take up its previously scheduled agenda.

Following the opinion, disappointment from preservationists was mixed with some surprise at the way the outcome was reached.

“They [the board members] didn’t say much in there,” noted Andrew Palewski, the Callowhill resident who has been fighting to save the church since its earliest threats of demolition. “It’s not surprising that they decided the way they did, but I would have hoped that they would have offered some supportive arguments.”

Stretton, who is representing the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, said that he is prepared to continue his appeal to the Court of Common Pleas if the L&I Review Board upholds the demolition permit.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the Historical Commission has approved a permit during an appeal,” he said, referring to the the granting of Wei’s permit following the Common Pleas October ruling despite Stretton’s pending appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

He held firm to his argument from Tuesday’s Board hearing that the approval of demolition based on financial hardship only applies to Siloam, the nonprofit AIDS wellness organization that no longer owns the church. “It is Mr. Wei’s burden to show that he has a hardship. He can’t.”

Neither Wei nor his attorney, Carl Primavera, were present at the meeting. Andrew Ross could not be reached for immediate comment.

About the author

Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.

Send him a message at: motecw[at]hotmail[dot]com



11 Comments


  1. Historical Commission?? HISTORICAL?! What a friggin’ joke! Shame on you!~

    • That’s exactly how I feel! Can anyone remember a building that the Historical Commision has actuaaly saved from demolition?

      If they’re not going to do their jobs, then perhaps it’s time for the city to find people who can!

  2. This is incredibly disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising anymore. The PHC is a terrible disgrace.

  3. Tear it down already! The people fighting are the same people who think the Divine Lorraine is a great building!

    • I agree. There are far more historically significant buildings in far better shape that are more worth saving. Church of the Assumption is in horrendous shape and would be a waste of money to attempt to refurbish. Use that money to improve the surrounding neighborhoods.

      • Seymour-I’m not really sure if it works like that. Investment in the church doesn’t necessarily mean decreased development in the surrounding neighborhoods. In fact it’s quite the opposite. People want to live around buildings like this. There’s a reason why Rittenhouse and Society Hill are the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. For this reason, I think that is why many of the residents of Callowhill are so concerned regarding the church’s future. It’s perhaps the only true landmark the neighborhood has left.

    • …Who are also the same people who read, subscribe and contribute to this site. :)

      I’ve never understood people who don’t seem to have any appreciation for beauty and history. To each his own I guess…

  4. Sue Smith, what exactly do you call a great building or good architecture if not Assumption BVM Church and the Lorraine Hotel?

  5. the idea that there are far more important buildings in need of preservation seems completely out of whack with reality. where? the developer at 12th and arch received $8 million in state funds to build an architectural atrocity…nearly a third of the project’s cost and well in excess of what this building woudl require for stabilization. $8 million would be the entire frigging project and we’d have a historically interesting, architecturally significant building in the end. this build is far more interesting, imo, than pittsburgh’s church brew works building yet they were able to save that building while this dies.

  6. It’s always the same…the iconic structures that once symbolized our neighborhoods are being torn down. How anyone cannot see that the Assumption is a beautiful 19th century landmark is beyond my comprehension. It’s the same headset that tore down a large part of Society Hill to replace the19th with phony colonial. This is how we lost the lions share of our Furness buildings and the city continues their tradition of disregard for our city’s fabric.

  7. There certainly is an unfortunate history of “disregard for our city’s fabric.” That said, it would be a mistake to consider the current mindset as a continuation of a stagnated view of preservation. Rather it is far more insidious. Instead of recognizing how the existing fabric provides an anchor, an identity, a foundation rooted in layers of history; it is viewed as an impediment to “investors” if it is not cleared away for a clean slate. To wit- the former Church of the Assumption is to be cleared for a lot, while the Episcopal Cathedral’s houses and the Levy-Leas house are to be cleared for all new development.

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