For more than half a year the Ruffin Nichols Memorial AME Church, a robust stone edifice at 11th and Mt. Vernon streets, sat half wrecked waiting for zoning approvals. But demolition recently has resumed.
Last Thursday I passed by the site and saw crews carting away debris. Most of the church and adjacent parish hall had been demolished and the rest was reduced to rubble. A mountain of bricks flowed through the church’s 11th Street entrance, where congregants passed for more than a century and a half.
Here’s a look at the site from August 8, 2013:
The church was constructed as Church of the Nativity in 1844 and designed by renowned architect Napoleon LeBrun, known best for his ecclesiastical work. Despite its pedigree the church complex was not protected with local historic designation. According to a Naked Philly piece from October 2011 the property was sold to a developer that year.
Keystone Custom Builders intends to build seven duplex units and four single-family houses on the site, confirmed Rustin Ohler, principal at Harman Deutsch Architecture, which helped the developers move the project through the permitting process.
According to city records, a zoning permit to create 11 lots on the site was issued in March. Then in April another zoning permit was issued for the “erection of a three (3) story attached structure (NTE 35’ high) with a roof deck and pilot house.” Construction permits have not yet been obtained.
The demolition permit from 2012 was updated in June for the “complete demolition of existing structure. Use to vacant lot.” Agresta Construction of Cherry Hill is listed as the contractor.
On Monday the city’s L&I website showed an open stop work order that was issued in June, citing violations pertaining to the contractor’s licenses and a lack of posted permits. But Department of Licenses & Inspections spokesperson Rebecca Swanson confirmed that the stop work order was in fact no longer in effect.
“We received a number of calls regarding the safety of the demolition and the condition of how they were leaving the site at night,” Swanson said. The first complaint through 311 was on July 30, followed by more in early August.
“We’ve been out there a lot recently,” Swanson said, noting that L&I's construciton site task force has been on site nearly daily to ensure that work is being completed safely.
“We ask people that if they see anything that might be unsafe or if they have questions, call 311," Swanson urged. "We will get an inspector out there.”
As of Saturday, Swanson said, all of the freestanding walls had been demolished.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.