Committee Recommends St. Laurentius For Historic Designation

 

Photo: Michael Bixler

Overwhelming neighborhood support to save St. Laurentius, Philadelphia’s oldest Polish Catholic parish, from proposed demolition by the Archdiocese reached a fever pitch in today’s Historical Committee meeting | Photo: Michael Bixler

St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church in Fishtown moved one crucial step closer to being protected from the wrecking ball today when the Historical Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation unanimously ruled in favor of recommending the Edwin Forrest Durang-designed Gothic sanctuary to be considered for historic designation by the full Commission at their meeting on July 12. Buildings listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places are legally protected from demolition.

Committee members said their decision was based on the building meeting all criteria for being historically significant. Namely, that the church–the first Polish national Catholic parish in Philadelphia–was unique and a familiar visual feature of the city, that it represented the cultural and social character of the neighborhood, and that the building has architectural significance.

Room 578 in City Hall was packed with passionate parishioners and members of the Polish community. Heartfelt testimony was shared, relating deep family ties that, for some, date back generations. Sandy Salzman, executive director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation, said that St. Laurentius is a touchstone of the neighborhood. She went on to recount an important life event of her own at the church. “The night I got engaged I was so excited I went and showed everyone at Midnight Mass the ring,” said Salzman.

Photo: Michael Bixler

A packed house: More than 20 parishioners and outside supporters showed up in support for St. Laurentius | Photo: Michael Bixler

Others, like preservation engineer Justin Spivey and Debroah Majka, honorary consul of The Republic of Poland for Southeastern Pennsylvania, gave architectural and historic context to the 133 year old church, which was built at Memphis and East Berks Streets with small donations collected over time by Philadelphia’s oldest Polish parish.

Hidden City contributor and St. Laurentius nomination writer Oscar Beisart gave the opening presentation.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia deconsecrated St. Laurentius and all sacred objects were removed from inside of the church to a storage facility in Overbrook last October–a move seen as preparatory to demolition of the church. Holy Name of Jesus Parish, owner of the now vacant sanctuary and with whom St. Laurentius Parish merged with in July of 2013, contracted O’Donnell & Naccarato for an engineering assessment of the structure. The firm’s report claims that the two feet deep façade—brownstone on the exterior and shist in the interior—has been compromised by age and weather and that the facestone is not stable enough for public safety, citing vertical cracks in the stone and poorly completed masonry repairs.

Holy Name representative Michael Phillips said that full restoration for the church would require an estimated cost of $2-3 million, whereas demolition could be done for around $1 million. Estimates for stabilization in the report by O’Donnell & Naccarato hovered around $5-700,00.

St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church goes before the full Philadelphia Historical Commission on Friday, July 10th at 9:00 a.m. in Room 18-029 at 1515 Arch Street.

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. Follow him on Instagram



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

Jewelry Designer Adds Flair To Old Stable In East Passyunk

October 9, 2019  |  Art & Design, Preservation

An old horse stable in South Philly finds a new function in the fashion world. Stacia Friedman takes a look inside > more

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

Salvage City: Recycling History One Object At A Time

October 7, 2019  |  Art & Design

One person's trash is another person's treasure, especially in the world of architectural salvage. Jacqueline Drayer takes a look at a new art exhibition at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens through the lens of the city's reclaimed materials industry > more

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

Special Collections Show Their Stuff For Archives Month Philly

October 3, 2019  |  History

Archives Month Philly kicks off with a long list of October events in the Delaware Valley. Kimberly Haas spoke to archivists from across the region to get the details on what's in store this year > more

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

The Crowning Glory Of Christ Church’s Steeple Comes Down For Restoration

September 26, 2019  |  Preservation

In Old City, Christ Church's 265-year-old weathervane come down from the steeple to undergo restoration. Kimberly Haas has the details > more

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

Op-ed: Spreading The Gospel Of Deadbox, One Bottle Cap At A Time

September 26, 2019  |  City Life

In this essay Len Davidson makes the case for resurrecting a long-lost Philly street game that once contributed to the vibrance of neighborhood life and the human connection of row house culture > more

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram's Garden

Concrete Cowboy Of Southwest Philly Finds A New Home At Bartram’s Garden

September 24, 2019  |  City Life

After being ousted from vacant, City-owned land, an urban cowboy and his posse of young protégées find a permanent place to hang their hats. Sam Newhouse has the news > more