All too often these days, churches are finding it impossible or impractical to continue to operate out of buildings they’ve enjoyed for decades. The reasons for this phenomenon are myriad, including contracting congregations, congregants that have moved away and have to travel to attend services, parking challenges, and building maintenance issues, to name a few. All of these issues are especially pronounced in gentrified and gentrifying neighborhoods, with the added factor of valuable real estate as part of the equation. This is why we’ve seen several churches get demolished in neighborhoods like Graduate Hospital, Francisville, and Fishtown, much to the chagrin of many neighbors and preservationists.
We were scouring the ZBA calendar the other day, and noticed 2210 E. Susquehanna Ave. on the docket. This property has been home to Bethel Baptist Church for many years, though it seems the church will soon be moving on to a new location. Developers have the property under agreement, and are pursuing a plan to demolish the church and build a three-story building with 27 apartments and 27 parking spots. We don’t know how the project was received by the community, but have to think that it went pretty well, considering the 1:1 parking provided.
It’s generally upsetting to see an church demolished, as these older buildings contribute mightily to the architectural character of the surrounding neighborhood. This is a bit of an exception, as the main church building is rather underwhelming, architecturally, and won’t be missed by anybody. The shorter section of the church was once a separate building, and we believe it was the home of the Fishtown post office before the unfortunate current building was constructed on Frankford Avenue. You’ll be happy to know that the facade of the former post office building will be preserved, with the new building being constructed behind it. Whether the developers will continue the design along the entire first floor we couldn’t tell you, but either way this will be one of the more unique new apartment buildings in the neighborhood.
Assuming the ZBA gives the thumbs up, the neighborhood will get some great new density, and for a change it won’t come at the expense of parking or a worthwhile old building. In fact, if the design is on point, the new building will actually highlight a great old building that’s been flying under the radar for a really long time.