St. Laurentius Church Blessed With Historic Designation

 

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Amid an Irish Catholic-dominated city, Edwin Forrest Durang designed St. Laurentius at Berks and Memphis Streets to emulate Poland’s medieval Gothic churches | Photo: Michael Bixler

Prayers were answered today for supporters trying to save the soaring spires of St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church in Fishtown. The Philadelphia Historical Commission voted to approve the neighborhood landmark for placement on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, which will legally protect the Edwin Forrest Durang-designed Gothic sanctuary from demolition. Opened in 1882, St. Laurentius was the first Polish Catholic church in Philadelphia. The preeminent ecclesiastical architect Durang considered the sanctuary to be one of his masterworks.

Speaking on behalf of supporters of the nomination, architecture and landscape historian Emily Cooperman said, “its street presence is important to the architectural fabric of the city and it stands as a monument of the neighborhood’s spirituality.”

Michael Blichasz, president of the Polish American Congress, maintained that the loss of the church would erase one of Philadelphia’s defining neighborhood landmarks. “You do not pass over on I-95 and not know you are in Fishtown because of St. Laurentius,” he said.

Photo: Michael Bixler

Supporters of Save St. Laurentius clasp hands as the Historical Commission votes in favor of adding the church to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places | Photo: Michael Bixler

Contesting the nomination, Holy Name’s legal representative Michael Phillips argued the financial constraints put on the parish by the aging building, citing an engineering report by firm O’Donnell & Naccarato that estimates $4.75 million worth of repairs to keep the building from becoming a threat to public safety, a point supporters of saving the church deeply contest and an argument Commission chair Sam Sherman and Commission executive director Jon Farnham reiterated was moot and only appropriate if the church had already been designated and a financial hardship recommendation is being pursued. Nomination decisions are at the discretion of the Commission and explicitly based on a list of criteria that weighs the architectural, cultural, and historic value of the structure being considered. “The building’s condition and public safety is an L&I issue,” said Sherman.

Nominations also approved for designation:

  • The former Second Associate Presbyterian Church now being used as a warehouse at 1523-25 N. Front Street, which we featured on the Daily in March.
  • Engine 37, the Chestnut Hill firehouse designed by John T. Windrim at 101 W. Highland Avenue.
  • The frescos by artist Nicola Monachesi on the walls and ceiling of St. Augustine Church at 243 N. Lawrence Street in Old City.

Conversion of the PSFS sign on the Loews Philadelphia Hotel from neon to LED lighting was also approved.

A financial hardship was granted to demolish most of the Royal Theater on South Street, though. Per an easement held by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, the building’s façade will stay as redevelopment plans for the property by owner Universal Community Homes and partner Dranoff Properties move forward.

About the author

Michael Bixler is a writer, photographer, and managing editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter with Mountain Xpress weekly in Asheville, North Carolina and a native of South Carolina. Bixler has a keen interest in adaptive reuse, underappreciated architecture, contemporary literature and art, and forward-thinking dialogue about people and place. mmbixler.tumblr.com

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2 Comments


  1. The untold story is about how many contributed in their own way to help raise awareness and support to save the church. I was only one of many to do the best we could. Here’s my photo essay to show the unique characteristic St. Laurentius has provided Fishtown since 1882 as the first Polish church in Philadelphia.
    I sincerely ask that you graciously show your support here in your own way: https://www.facebook.com/savestlaurentius.

    Photo essay: http://romanblazicwordsandpictures.blogspot.com/2014/06/fishtowntake-another-look.html

    Respectfully,
    Roman Blazic

  2. Good news, but who has the title to St Laurentius church – the petitioners or the Archdiocese of Philadelphia? And who has the money to fully rehab the church along with liability insurance and insurance on the building – the petitioners or the Archdiocese of Philadelphia?

    The Archdiocese could sell the building to a LLC created by the petitioners but that LLC woukld have to be infused with capital to be able to purchase the building along with a business and fund raising plan to support the purchase and operation of the church. If the petitioners think they can get the Archdiocese to pay for repairs and remodeling of the hcurch to ensure that its structural condition will continue on for decades, they will be surprised to find out the answer will be negative. And before a sale with the Archdiocese will be completed, a lot of things will have to be laid out like ducks to make it happen.

    Bottom line, this will only delay, not postpone the demolition. A lot of engineering study will have to be done by both the Archdiocese and the petitioner to prove whether the church can be saved or be demoed. And the legwork will entail cost in legal and engineering fees by both sides before the Historical Commission reluctantly allows the demolition.

    I hope you guys suceed in saving the church, but a good business plan and a good fund raising plan are keys in making this happen and to convince the Archdiocese to sell the property to their formed LLC.

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