The Callowhill Neighborhood Association (CNA) disagrees with the decision by the Philadelphia Historical Commission to allow the demolition of the Church of the Assumption on 11th and Spring Garden Sts.
The president of the CNA, Amy Hooper, explained that although the CNA supports the work and mission of Siloam and organizations like it, they oppose the removal of the historically significant former Roman Catholic Church.
Siloam is a non-profit organization that describes itself as the wellness center for people living with HIV/AIDS. Siloam purchased the property several years ago and recently made the decision that demolition was the only option for the structure, due to financial burdens.
“CNA believes that Siloam has financial options, they could sell or repurpose the other real estate they own (parking lots or convent) to supplement their funding needs and resolve their financial hardship,” Hooper said. “Demolishing a rare historic landmark is not the only option.”
Hooper explained that Siloam has options to sell the Church of the Assumption to a private developer when the real estate market improves. The CNA felt the Historic Commission set a bad precedent by approving a historic designation for a building like the Church of the Assumption, then a year later voting to approve to demolish it.
The church, with its distinctive twin spires, was designed and built in 1848-49 by the most prolific ecclesiastical architect in the U.S. at the time, Patrick Charles Keely. It also has strong historic and religious significance involving two individuals who would become Catholic saints; John Neumann consecrated the church and Katharine Drexel was baptized there.
“If this demolition is allowed to happen, all historically designated buildings are at risk,” Hooper said.
The attorney for Siloam, Kevin R. Boyle, summarized the recent history of the church and the agency.
The Church of the Assumption has been vacant for more than 15 years, since the Catholic Archdiocese abandoned the building and “stripped it of its religious identity” by removing the stained-glass windows, altar and other interior décor. Siloam bought the church in 2006 and explored possible uses for the property. It asked the Community Design Collaborative in 2007 to assess the cost of restoring the building. The answer: $4 million, which has since been updated to $5 million to $6 million by a cost consultant. In November 2008, the Siloam board of directors decided it could not afford to restore or find a buyer for the building, and it sought a permit for demolition. In March 2009, Siloam received a permit for interior demolition. Then in May 2009, the building was named to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, which protected the church from complete demolition.
The CNA is reviewing its options regarding filing an appeal on the demolition decision. It will have a deadline of Sept. 25 to make any final decisions concerning that position.