The Friendship Baptist Church at 1730 Wharton St. was constructed in 1888 as the 18th Street Methodist Episcopal Church, designed by J. Franklin Stuckert. In honor of its hundredth birthday, the gorgeous building was added to the Philadelphia Historic Register, protecting it from demolition and/or significant exterior alteration. This is great news from a preservation perspective, given the number of old churches that have disappeared over the years in gentrifying neighborhoods. Even if a building is designated historic, it can be torn down if it deteriorates to the degree that it can’t be reasonably preserved. It doesn’t look like that’s the case for this building, though it has certainly seen much better days.
As is often the case with old churches in gentrifying neighborhoods, the congregation has not been able to keep up with its edifice. The building has incredible bones, but it’s 130 years old and the upkeep has got to be incredibly costly. Not to mention, it’s gotta cost a fortune to heat and cool that building. It’s this exact circumstance that’s led so many congregations to sell their buildings and either close down or move to a smaller space, a situation that generally means selling the property to a developer and seeing the building get torn down. Now it seems that half of that equation is in the process of taking place.
This week, developers filed for a plan to renovate the building and convert it into a ten unit apartment building. This parcel is zoned for single-family residential use, so the project will require approval from the ZBA in order to move forward. We suspect that many in the community will rally behind this proposal, as it will allow the historic building to remain in place and receive a needed infusion of cash to ensure it sticks around for many years to come. Then again, parking. It should be a compelling community meeting for this one, pitting preservation interests against parking interests. Grab some popcorn, folks.