(note: this article updated from the original)
In a case that could set precedent, the Episcopal Cathedral Chapter–center of the Philadelphia diocese–is making a complicated claim of acting in the “public interest” in its request to the historical commission to tear down two buildings on the Philadelphia register of historic places in order to build a 25 story apartment tower at 38th and Chestnut adjacent to the Cathedral and International House of Philadelphia. The request was made last Wednesday.
Siting reports from the Partnership for Sacred Places and engineering and construction firms, the Cathedral’s plan is to complete a $3-4 million (or more) renovation of the Cathedral itself (originally the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Savior, built in 1889 and rebuilt after a fire, in 1906) to be completed as part of the construction of the retail and apartment tower. The church’s argument is that the Cathedral’s preservation, more pressing than originally thought, is too expensive given the church’s current budget. The only answer, according to Church officials, is to develop church-owned property, creating a sustainable stream of revenue. This, they say, will benefit the public interest by saving a major landmark.
The question before the Historical Commission’s architectural committee (to meet next Tuesday) is whether to grant the claim and allow the demolition of the church’s 1903, 4 story brownstone Parrish House (both the church and Parrish House were designed by noted ecclesiastical architect Charles M. Burns). The Historical Commission will also have to decide to allow a contemporary glass entrance addition to the Cathedral. Preliminary applications suggest that BLT Architects will design the tower.
The Cathedral has previously provoked controversy with aggressive remodeling of the church’s interior in 2001, following a plan pushed by the former head of the church, the Very Reverend Richard Giles. That renovation, designed by architect George Yu, substantially altered the interior. It was decried by Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron and other architectural observers. (We link to an LA Times article on the controversy HERE.)
The Cathedral has chosen Radnor Property Group, with substantial experience in preservation and mixed-use projects, to develop the tower. It’s unclear from public documents if the project has been financed. However, a building permit has been filed.