Renovation, Not Demolition, For Church on Kingsessing

Renovations have begun on a 115-year-old church at 47th & Kingsessing that last year was slated for demolition.

View of the former church

Two years ago L&I had issued a 30-day repair or demolish notice, and last year, when the church was close to demolition, a neighborhood response led to the St. Peter's Church of Christ being saved, West Philly Local reported. The church will be redeveloped by Guy Laren, who purchased the building this winter, with a private school as a likely tenant.

When we passed by recently, workers were busy preparing the exterior for improvements. According to WPL, Laren organized with Aaron Wunsch, a historic preservation professor at Penn, and former mayor Wilson Goode Sr. for help mobilizing resources to save the church, which was designed by Frank Furness' firm. For Wunsch, preservation of the neighborhood landmark was not only appealing because his career is centered around architectural preservation, but also because he lives in the neighborhood. 

From another angle

“Without knowing anything about Frank Furness I just considered the building as important to the neighborhood,” Wunsch said. He said he preferred it to “generic cheaply built rowhouses that come to the sidewalk and are built like absolute crap.”

“This is actually an important part of Frank Furness' career,” he said. The church was built in 1900. The parish house next door was built in 1892. Because of a much smaller budget the interior was constructed with wood. “It's possibly the nicest example of what you can do to make an inexpensive building look like a Frank Furness project.”

Because the church was built so late in his career, Wunsch said it's safe to say that others might have had more design input than Furness himself. But two distinct items, capitols on columns that flank the main sanctuary and a baptismal font on a stone piece possess a quality Wunsch believes Furness himself might have designed. Wunsch says this preservation is “perfect … Schools tend to not require heavy reconfiguration of the building.” And, “from a neighborhood perspective, I really like the idea of having more schools around.”