The Kensington Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the more historic churches in Philadelphia and it’s likely you’ve never laid eyes on it. The church is located at 300 Richmond St., on one of the three blocks of Richmond Street between Frankford Avenue and the place where I-95 and Delaware Avenue pinch together to squeeze Richmond Street out of existence for a few blocks. So it’s not exactly a place that you’d stumble onto- unless you live on one of these blocks or have some kind of purpose for visiting (like being a member of the church’s congregation for example), you’ve probably never been here.
Though the church has been in the same location since 1805, its location wasn’t always as remote as it is today. As you’re surely well aware, the Delaware waterfront was the city’s economic engine through the beginning of the 20th century and this building sits just a couple blocks away from the river. As we’ve also explained many times before, the surrounding neighborhood was at one time a major manufacturing hub, and until I-95 was built in the 1970s, this building had easy access to Fishtown and Kensington beyond. Today, like we said, it’s pinched between a highway posing as a local road (Delaware Ave.) and one of the most significant highways in America (the aforementioned I-95).
Despite the somewhat challenging location, we’ve seen various projects crop up on and around these three blocks of Richmond Street. So it didn’t surprise us in the least when we learned that the church would be getting redeveloped into an apartment building. As we mentioned above, the congregation has been here since 1805 and the building dates back to 1854. The congregation used the bricks from their first church to build this edifice, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the “Old Brick Church.”
The church has been on the local historic registry for decades, so there wasn’t much risk that it would be torn down. Instead, developer Elliot Kopel will be adding some interior floors to the building and creating 26 units inside. An original plan called for 38 units, but community pushback brought down the unit count, and the developer got the necessary variance last year. The congregation, now rather small in size, will maintain a small part of the building, with a chapel and meeting room on the first floor of the former Young Men’s Hall on Marlborough Street.
We’ve covered another project from this developer before, the conversion of the former Emanuel German Lutheran Church at 4th & Carpenter. That project is very similar to this one, in that it calls for the reuse of a cavernous old church building into apartments with the addition of new interior floors. There are not many developers in Philadelphia that have expertise in these kinds of conversions, so we’re cheered to see this developer can make the numbers work and is able to reuse the existing historic buildings. Perhaps they’ll be able to do the same in other sacred spaces moving forward, using lessons learned with these projects.