A Big Picture View Saves A Frank Furness Church on Kingsessing

Sometimes developers invest and buy big, knowing that one project might not be very lucrative, but understanding that a new investment will help their other holdings nearby. Such is the case with Guy Laren and the Saint Peter's Church of Christ at 47th & Kingsessing. Earlier this spring, we shared news that the 115-year-old Frank Furness church would be renovated by Laren, instead of getting demolished. After navigating a lengthy zoning process, Laren got the demolition order removed. It took so long, he said, because L&I, rightfully so he conceded, wanted to be certain the weakening structure had been stabilized correctly.

The sanctuary

New blue windows for the former school building

Plans are for two schools to occupy space in the church's former parish hall. Little Learners is moving from a Woodland Avenue building owned by Laren into a roughly 3,000 sqft space. Community Pre-School is moving from 41st & Lancaster into a slightly smaller space. Laren believes that parents bringing children to 47th & Kingsessing on a daily basis will build community and show that the area is safe.

This serves his interests in a few ways. First, he believes it can ultimately help foot-traffic on surrounding blocks where he owns a number of residential and commercial buildings. Four Worlds Bakery, on the 4600 block of Woodland Ave., and the West Philly Tool Library on 47th Street are two businesses he's brought to the neighborhood, he explained. “It will enhance the stuff I have a block away … [make] it more valuable,” Laren said.

New rental buildings on Woodland Ave.

When Laren bought the church, he knew he wasn't going to make much money from the first phase of renovations. Those renovations—done by Constellar—have been plentiful. Because the building was not properly heated or cared for over 15 years, water, snow, and dirt have compromised its structural integrity. At best, they'll be able to save some of the stained glass itself, but not the entire windows. Instead, the original shapes are what will remain.  “The only sentence I can use to describe it,” he said: “Terrible … Every time you thought you had a section of roof or a section of floor you thought you were gonna save it, you were challenged.” 

With the former parish hall getting close, Laren can start to consider what to do with the huge former sanctuary space. We're not sure what would make sense here, given the size and shape of the building. Maybe a residential conversion, a la the former church at 27th & Girard, could fit the bill.

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