At the northwest corner of 11th and Mt. Vernon, just two blocks from the celebrated and recently spared Church of the Assumption, a stunning Gothic church stands shuttered. The former Ruffin Nichols Memorial AME Church, originally built in 1844 and rebuilt in 1909, is for sale. The church is listed by prominent local developer Lawrence Rust for $899,900. Rust is best-known for Spring Arts Point, the large mixed-use development planned for 10th and Green.
It is not news that churches through the country are facing challenging times. Declining attendance, decreased giving from congregants, and high operation and maintenance costs are forcing many congregations to either close their doors permanently or to move into smaller buildings. The result? A growing stock of churches for sale.
Many churches throughout the city are for sale, with some being actively marketed and others not. Listed online are:
- St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church (425-29 Pine St.) – $2,000,000
- All Saints Episcopal Church (6301-09 Crescentville Rd.) – $780,000
- St. Barnabus P.E. Church (2300 N. 3rd St.) – $750,000
- Orthodox Street M.E. Church (2228-36 Orthodox St.) – $335,000
- Christ Independent Baptist Church (114 W. Ontario St.) – $270,000
- Mt. Cavalry Apostolic Church (7255 Ogontz Ave.) – Price not disclosed
- Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church (310 Monastery Ave.) – Price not disclosed
Unfortunately, in the past year, several closed churches have been demolished to clear the path for new development. This typically occurs in neighborhoods in transition where demand for new housing is high, such as Graduate Hospital and Francisville. This happens unnecessarily.
Throughout the country, hundreds of churches have been adapted to accommodate new uses, collectively serving as a reminder that demolition is not inevitable. In Philadelphia, one can find churches that have been converted into single family residences, condominiums, apartments, offices, schools, arts centers, photography studios, and performance venues. The most notable examples of reuse include Fleisher Art Memorial, the Rotunda, and Chapel Lofts.
Fleisher Art Memorial, a Philadelphia Museum of Art-operated arts group that offers free and low-cost art classes for children and adults, is housed in the former church and school of the Church of the Evangelist (1884-1886) at 719 Catherine in Bella Vista. The impressive sanctuary remains virtually unchanged, hosting classes and the occasional special event while the school now contains updated classrooms and studio space.
The First Church of Christ Scientist (1911) at 4014 Walnut in University City is now home to the Rotunda, a community-oriented performance hall. The Carrère and Hastings-designed building contains two performance spaces, the circular sanctuary and the smaller Sunday school room, which host a total of over 300 events per year.
Chapel Lofts, an apartment building, occupies the former Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church (1860) at 1520 Green in Spring Garden. At Chapel Lofts, developer Gary Reisner did an outstanding job of incorporating the church’s historic elements (including the costly-to-restore stained and painted glass windows) into the new units. One of the most distinguished units is the Apse Unit, containing the altar turned mini basketball court with a built in wine cabinet.
Recently, Naked Philly reported some encouraging news: the adaptive reuse of a church in Spring Garden is underway. Loonstyn Brothers Construction LLC will convert the former Cavalry Baptist Church at 655 N. 16th Street into ten residential units.