mother bethel church

Blight finally disappears

Over two years ago, we first brought two blighted buildings at the corner of 6th & Lombard to your attention. We explained that the two buildings were owned by Mother Bethel AME Church, a long-established congregation across the street. At the time, we hoped that the church would either fix up the buildings or sell them off to somebody who would.

Blighted buildings

About a year ago, we were encouraged to learn that 540 Lombard St., the building one off from the corner, had been sold to a private developer who demolished and rebuilt the property. Our expectation was that the church would take the proceeds from the sale of the building to renovate the corner property, which it still owned at the time. By the summer, we learned that the church sold off the corner property as well, which was just fine by us. The new owner came to QVNA asking for support for a coffee shop in this location, a variance that was ultimately granted by the ZBA.

How it will be commemorated is still an open question

In Queen Village, kids are playing above a cemetery. Underneath the Weccacoe Playground, situated near 4th & Catharine, sits an African American burial ground that dates back to the 19th century. This summer, archaeologists from URS excavated part of the park on behalf of PHS in advance of planned renovations to the playground.

Current view of the playground

What they found through the Phase IB investigation were the remains of an estimated 5,000 people buried but two feet beneath the surface. Two days after Christmas, on December 27th, 1889, the City of Philadelphia took ownership of this land and rebranded it Weccacoe Square, according to the report. From circa 1810 to 1864 the land served as the Mother Bethel church’s burial ground. In the spring of 1810, Reverend Allen and church leaders paid $1,600 to Matthew and Hannah Waring for a square plot of land that fronted Queen St. between 4th and 5th, a 121-foot long plot, that totaled just over a quarter of an acre. It became the first privately owned non-churchyard black cemetery in the city, as the land was not attached to the church, the report said. In the 1900s, there was the Weccacoe School Garden, which was an urban farm 100 years ago.

A long vacant corner retail location may soon become the areas's newest coffee shop with two apartments upstairs. But some neighbors are concerned that support for a variance from the Queen Village Neighbors Association (QVNA) to allow prepared foods at 542 Lombard St., could open the door for a variety of future uses that are anything other than prepared food.

We first wrote about this building almost two years ago, wondering how the property and the one next door could be located on such a prominent corner in a persistent state of blight. We revisited this corner last fall, as 540 Lombard St. was undergoing renovations, curious about what might be the fate of its neighbor on the corner.