St. Gabriel’s is a Catholic Church at the corner of 29th & Dickinson whose story echoes many houses of worship in Philadelphia. The attractive building dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, and in its heyday the church was surely packed to the gills for Sunday mass, let alone on holidays. But times and demographics have changed, and despite the fact that the Archdiocese has consolidated two other parishes into St. Gabriel’s, attendance isn’t nearly what it used to be. Fortunately, its interior is in better shape than many other churches thanks to a major fundraising campaign in the mid-1990s, according to a story from Hidden City. And the associated school next door continues to attract families, so this church certainly seems to maintaining its viability better than others.
Nevertheless, the church still owns more real estate at this location than it knows what to do with. Not a shock, we heard a few months ago that the Archdiocese was looking to sell off the former St. Gabriel’s convent building, located directly across the street. Considering that this building had been sitting vacant, this made all kinds of sense. Looking at the L-shaped building and considering its historic uses, we thought it made sense as a conversion to residential use. We couldn’t decide whether a low-cost market rate project made the most sense at this location, or maybe a section 8 approach.
We still don’t know what’s the best approach here, but we do know that a developer has the property under agreement and that they’ve got an application to the ZBA to turn the building into 20 apartments. Part of the application also entails changing the lot lines for the property, because there’s an easement that runs through the middle of the building for some reason and the other half of the building is part of a second property that somehow includes the school annex building and a section of Woodstock Street.
We have to imagine that the ZBA will ultimately give the thumbs up to this plan- there’s a clear hardship due to the odd lot lines and the fact that the property is zoned for single-family use. And we’re certainly cheered to see this building reused instead of demolished, but we don’t expect is that this project is any kind of sign of increased developer interest in Grays Ferry. This neighborhood will continue to see some market rate development activity on the edges and some additional affordable housing, but this is right in the heart of the neighborhood, in an area that’s seen hardly any new construction that comes to mind. In short, we appreciate the project, but we don’t expect it’ll have any impact whatsoever on development in the area.