Old And In The Way In Pennsport

 

Before & after? 1332-34 South 3rd Street. Left: St. John the Evangelist, photo by Bradley Maule; Right: proposed townhomes, image by Harman Deutsch Architecture

Before & after? 1332-34 South 3rd Street. Left: St. John the Evangelist, photo by Bradley Maule; Right: proposed townhomes, image by Harman Deutsch Architecture

A ripple of architectural destruction appears to be moving swiftly through Pennsport. Some people are putting their faith in preservation efforts and some are taking their faith elsewhere.

St. John's under lock and key | Photo: Joseph G. Brin

St. John’s under lock and key | Photo: Joseph G. Brin

The days are numbered for the Episcopal Church of St. John The Evangelist, 1332 S. Third Street, at the intersection of Moyamensing and Reed. The building was constructed in 1867, architect unknown. It is not on the city historical register and a demolition permit has already been granted to Harman Deutsch Architecture. A demolition date has not been scheduled yet, but Gama Wrecking, in neighboring Queen Village, is named as the contractor on the permit. Last Friday, pews were being removed from St. John’s for salvage.

Project architect Rustin Ohler of the firm Harman Deutsch states, “we went door to door in the neighborhood seeking support. It seems like everyone is in favor…we haven’t received much, if any, opposition.” It was deemed too expensive to gut and rehab the existing structure, and instead, 12 four-story townhomes have been designed, with parking. Ohler points out that the interior was “dated” and there were “structural issues with the south wall.”

St. John’s rectory, next door to the church on Third Street, will also be demolished in the process, Ohler confirms.

St. John the Evangelist Church (middle) and its Parish House (right, with red door) will soon be demolished and replaced with townhouses | Photo: Bradley Maule

St. John the Evangelist Church (middle) and its Parish House (right, with red door) will soon be demolished and replaced with townhouses | Photo: Bradley Maule (view: 3rd Street)

Rendering of townhouses planned for 1332-34 South 3rd Street | Image courtesy of Harman Deutsch Architecture

Rendering of townhouses planned for 1332-34 South 3rd Street | Image courtesy of Harman Deutsch Architecture (view: Reed Street)

St. John’s life was extended for some years when the congregation of Emanuel Lutheran Church on Fourth Street near Washington Avenue, sold their landmark church to a Vietnamese Buddhist congregation and joined with Episcopals for five years. But subsequent congregational changes point up how difficult it is for church groups to maintain membership–and their houses of worship. When the arrangement with St. John’s faltered, the Lutherans went on to share space with Old Swedes Church. That too failed. Now, Emanuel Lutheran is back on Fourth Street, in their original neighborhood (but a new temporary location) and St John’s faces the wrecking ball.

* * *

Two and a half blocks east of St. John the Evangelist, the future of the former Engine 46 Steakhouse remains unclear. Earlier this week, the Passyunk Post reported that a demolition permit was posted on the building at 1401 South Water Street, and later removed. There are no demolition permits actively filed for the structure, originally built in 1894.

Michael Schreiber, who sits on the Queen Village Historic Preservation Committee, observes, “the building is quite striking and relatively unique in Philadelphia; during the years that it functioned as Engine 46 Steakhouse restaurant it served as a model of how historic buildings could be restored and recycled for other uses.” He also noted that the firehouse has not been placed on the city historical register, which severely limits the strategic options of any campaign to save it.

Schreiber contends, “both of these buildings are prominent landmarks in the neighborhood, and both of them, especially the firehouse, are quite beautiful. Losing them will be major blows to the cause of historic preservation in Philadelphia.”

Engine 46 Firehouse | Photo: Joseph G. Brin

Engine 46 Firehouse | Photo: Joseph G. Brin

About the author

Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and writer based in Philadelphia. He has covered Philadelphia architecture, design and culture for Metropolis Magazine. His residential architecture website can be seen HERE. His new artwork explores historical intersections with Philadelphia, largely through its architecture. A palpable convergence of past and present... can be seen HERE.



14 Comments


  1. the community needs to mobilize to stop this. not even so much the loss of the church but the erection of something so shoddy and hideous. outrageous!

  2. The proposed townhomes are in a style we’ve dubbed Hi-Tard, which offers the return of early 70s mansard matched with the return of late 80s hi tech.

  3. ” It was deemed too expensive to gut and rehab the existing structure, and instead, 12 four-story townhomes have been designed, with parking. Ohler points out that the interior was “dated” and there were “structural issues with the south wall.”

    I’ve never really quite understood this rationale…So it’s more expensive to restore an existing building than it is to completely demolish it and erect something new? What exactly is it that makes renovation so expensive vs new construction? Or has this become a false excuse used by developers to mollify preservationists? It just seems like this rationale has been used quite often over the last few years..

    If developers want to demolish historic buildings, then they should at least have the decency to be honest and transparent about their intentions.

    • It is all BS they spew meaning “we don’t want to be bothered by designing inside the structural limitations of this old building and we can squeeze more apartments into some new shit we build that into this old building.”

      More bland dime a dozen shit construction and design at the expense of history and quality architecture, all in service of the almighty dollar. While the developers themselves and scumbags for this at least we can understand their wanton disregard due to greed, its their job to make money after all. The sin lies with the city who allows them to demolish these historic structures and neighborhoods who sit and say nothing.

      If Philadelphis keeps on this path one of the oldest and most historic cities will have precious little to distinguish itself from newer bland cities. I dont want to be Philadelphia to just be colder Phoenix in 20 years.

  4. Churches are more than structures and St John’s commitment to its community goes sadly unaddressed in this piece. The South Philly Review presented this side of the Church’s mission in a piece published earlier this year as the parishioners were preparing the building for sale. http://www.southphillyreview.com/news/features/Final-prayers-at-145-year-old-church-187202851.html

    I was able to take a walk through St. John’s the week before it closed. I was surprised and moved by the parishioners commitment to programs that served the needs of community. I hope that the good works of the former St John’s can continue in a new physical home. I hope that neighboring parishes show concern for the continuation of the food program and programs serving children in the community. Like many good people who are committed to serving others, the humble people at St John’s made very little noise about their programs– it would be a shame to see their positive endeavors demolished along with the old church itself.

  5. Isn’t there a neigborhood community group in Pennsport for public discussion of major community development projects? Or maybe a historic preservation group? I could not find a website for one using the word Pennsport. If one does exist, was it involved in the decision about these historically significant structures?

  6. The rectory building is probably valuable, as it can provide group housing, or serve as an educational or community facility, and that is the kind of thing that rarely gets built.
    The townhomes are not the ugliest possible, and new housing is needed, but unless the city enacts design guidelines, we’re stuck with what we get. Design guidelines are the way to maintain certain styles. Because of our lot sizes, we are probably stuck with rowhomes, which is not great, because despite the density, it means no green.

  7. If the community-serving programs need preservation as they could continue, perhaps the builder can be induced to set aside one home as a home for programs.

  8. The firehouse would make a wicked brewpub! Take Dock Street Brewing in West Philly as one example.

  9. Reading this makes me feel sick to my stomach and outraged at the same time. It wouldn’t be so bad if the church and rectory were being demolished for something creative and innovative. As an architectural designer I would ashamed to put my name on something so bland and passe. Traditional architecture, when done correctly can be beautiful but the designs for those houses are an insult to the past.

  10. Rustin Ohler of the firm Harman Deutsch seems to specialize in creating bland box-like architecture for developers that don’t care about people or neighborhoods.

  11. “we went door to door in the neighborhood seeking support. It seems like everyone is in favor…we haven’t received much, if any, opposition.”

    Well, no one has contacted me about it – and why would they – I only live in the house RIGHT NEXT DOOR!!

    This is my first time seeing the planned structure and I’m literally dumbstruck by how ugly and out of scale it is. Guess I’ll be going to my first zoning hearing…

    ZBaron: Not to get all NIMBY but thanks, no thanks on a group home.

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