The Wharton Centre may sound like a British outpost of Penn’s business school, but it was, in fact, a social services organization in North Philadelphia. From its headquarters on 22nd Street just above Cecil B. Moore Avenue, the Wharton Centre offered services to the African American community that included social worker training, arts programming for kids, anti-gang violence programs, and shelter for the homeless, according to a story from Plan Philly. The group became insolvent after the turn of the 21st century and its buildings were used as rooming houses in recent years. But the organization’s sign remained on the buildings, a reminder of the good works that once took place inside.
Developers bought the properties in 2017 and demoed the buildings earlier this year. We don’t see any permits that indicate plans for the properties, but given their multi-family zoning and the proximity to Temple University, we’d wager on student housing at some point in the future.
Demolition crews may have more work ahead on this block, as the Emmanuel Baptist Church at 1732 N. 22nd St. is currently listed for sale. This building was originally constructed as Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church and was designed by Hazelhurst & Huckel, completed in 1892. As is the case with many attractive religious buildings in our fair city, this building is not listed on the local Historic Register. So despite the fact that this is a very handsome edifice that appears to have great bones, there’s nothing that would stop it from getting demolished if a developer were inclined to tear it down and replace it with something else.
The church owns their building, along with a number of surrounding non-contiguous vacant lots, and everything is currently on the market for roughly $1.5M. The listings show that the properties are active but under contract, which tells us that they will soon change hands. Like the former Wharton Centre, all of these lots are zoned multi-family, which means they could accommodate apartment buildings as a matter of right. Since they’re all fairly large, they could include many units, again giving us a sense that student housing will be the ultimate approach here.
It’s pretty obvious what will happen with the vacant lots, but we suppose that it’s still an open question whether the party that buys the properties will decide to keep the church or tear it down. We’d certainly prefer to see it stick around, but it’s possible that the financials of the deal won’t allow for that to be the case. This seems like yet another example of a property that would greatly benefit from a City program that provides tax incentives (beyond the 10-year abatement) for adaptive reuse. Without such a program and barring a significant jump in the budget of the Historical Commission, we expect the demolitions of possibly worthy but undesignated buildings to continue unabated.