It was roughly half a decade ago that we directed your attention to the Word Tabernacle Baptist Church, a congregation that was worshiping out of a gorgeous building at 52nd & Chester, in Kingsessing. In the story, we expressed some degree of surprise that the congregation was able to use the building at all, considering the apparent roof damage and the missing/boarded up windows. Despite the active use of the building, we suspected that it would only be a matter of time before building maintenance would prove too onerous for the church, and we predicted it would eventually go up for sale. Earlier this year, that’s exactly what happened.
The initial price tag was $900K, but the property ended up selling for just over a third of that initial asking price. With new ownership now in place and no historic designation, we have to think that the next step for this property will be demolition. And that’s a shame for this structure, which was built a little over a century ago for First United Presbyterian, designed by Joseph Huston. An associate of Frank Furness in his earlier years, Huston is perhaps best known for designing the Pennsylvania Capitol Building and serving time in prison for graft as a result of his involvement in the project. The church in question was constructed the year before that prison stay.
We couldn’t tell you what’s coming here, as we don’t see any new permits on the parcel at this time. But the property covers a little over half an acre and permits multi-family use as a matter of right, so we’d expect a new apartment building here which will surely pale in comparison, architecturally, to the building that’s there now. Figure an adaptive reuse is fairly unlikely, though there’s one example in the area, the Cloisters Apartments in the former Saint Agatha’s, that could provide a template to reuse this building. That project was done as an affordable development, which could certainly make sense in Kingsessing, but we are thinking that demolition and student housing development are a much likelier outcome.