A unique brick and limestone structure imbues the corner of 12th & Walnut with a markedly gothic appeal. Here stands the five-story Beasley Building, distinguished by the incongruent pair of steep gables on its front exterior and its cathedral-like appearance. Said appearance is no accident. Though the Beasley has seen its fair share of occupants, this location was actually in regular use as early as 1829, when the doors to the Tenth Presbyterian Church opened. The church location is shown here below, in an image taken from Hexamer & Locher’s 1858 Philadelphia Atlas.
According to the Tenth Presbyterian Church website, the Tenth Church established a ‘daughter church’ at 17th & Spruce in 1855. The two churches worked in close concert with one another, even swapping ministers bi-weekly. The photo below, taken from the Tenth Church website, shows the 12 & Walnut location, probably in the late 1880s.
By 1893, flagging membership at both churches led to a merging of congregations and a permanent move to the Spruce Street location. The original structure would be razed and replaced in short order, as evidenced by the 1894 datestone still visible today. In that year, the Episcopal Church House would be erected, giving the building its present form. The building is shown here below in a photo courtesy of Philaphilia.
Philaphilia goes on to report that the Episcopalians moved to Rittenhouse in 1921, selling the building to the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce, appearances would have it, did little to no upkeep of the building over the next 25 years before selling to Jefferson Medical College in 1946, according to The Beasley Firm. The 1971 photo below, taken from the Department of Records, shows the building under the care of Jefferson Medical College and decidedly worse for the wear.
The Beasley Firm tells that Jefferson sold the building to a company called Pierre Uniforms in 1975. It was at this point that the structure would actually enjoy its greatest notoriety within the city. In 1976, the old Episcopal chapel became the Second Story disco. First a private gay nightclub then eventually one of the hottest mainstream mirrorball scenes in the city, Philaphilia reports that the basement was also occupied by a gay juice-bar called the Catacombs. The Beasley Firm describes the Catacombs as having been “eerily reminiscent of the ‘Milk Bar’ in the classic movie A Clockwork Orange.”
According to the Beasley Firm’s website, its founder decided to put a stop to all the fun in 1986. The site tells that in a claim made to the Common Please Court seeking to purchase and restore the building, “Jim Beasley, an Episcopalian by birth, argued that the current tenants were using the Church House ‘in a manner which is immoral, improper and objectionable.’” The Beasley firm dedicated $5M to an architectural repair of its law firm’s new home, restoring the building to its present condition.