Nobody in Philadelphia is ever going to build anything like the old stone Church of the Nativity at 11th and Mt. Vernon streets again.
It’s a combination of design and materials that people just don’t use anymore, so its demolition would be sad in any circumstance. But it’s sadder still to see such a building waiting around for the inevitable in a state of half-demolition, a terminal case with its innards exposed to the elements.
According to Department of Licenses and Inspections records (we used the new http://lti.planphilly.com application), a permit for complete demolition of the building was issued last April. Then, over the summer, a portion of the church’s south wall collapsed, causing L&I to issue a property maintenance violation and list the building as imminently dangerous. In October, the south wall and roof were completely demolished, which was enough to resolve the violation.
But virtually nothing has happened since then. The parcel and adjacent sidewalk are currently fenced off, but the church interior is exposed to public view. Bricks that hang off the south side of the steeple tower look ready to fall. And there’s no saying at this point when the rest of it will come down.
Rustin Ohler, principal at Harman Deutsch Architects, said the owner is currently waiting to get zoning approval for a proposed project involving seven duplexes and four single-family homes on the site before completing the demolition. Ohler is listed as the contact on the L&I permit, and he said Harman Deutsch is involved in developing the project and getting it through zoning. He said a ZBA hearing has not been scheduled yet.
Keystone Custom Builders is listed as the contractor for the demolition, though, according to Ohler and a man who identified himself as a Keystone employee outside the company’s headquarters, the work was actually subcontracted out. Neither individual knew the name of the company that actually did the work.
PlanPhilly couldn’t get on the phone with Anthony Randazzo of Keystone or the property owner listed on the Office of Property Assessment’s website, but if we could, we’d ask them: What if you don’t get the zoning approvals you’re looking for? Is half that church just going to sit there?
Which raises another question: better a vacant lot or a half-demolished church and fenced-off sidewalk?
Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016.