The historically designated Church of the Assumption, located at 1123-33 Spring Garden Street, is under agreement, according to the website for realtors Colliers International.


Colliers director Michael Barmash told Naked Philly it was a sensitive issue and too early to release any further information, but according to the Inquirer, the new owner is John Wei, of JI Investments LLC. The site has played host to a vortex of local controversy, and was once slated and approved by the Historical Commission to be demolished before members of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association appealed to L&I to reverse the decision, a request that was granted last year. This winter, an L&I analysis of the process declared SILOAM owners did not try hard enough to sell the property before asking the Historical Commission for a demolition permit, according to PlanPhilly.

Closer look

The church itself had been on the market for the past three years, but in the past six months owners SILOAM added the rectory located at 1135 Spring Garden St., the convent located at 1122-32 Brandywine St., and the 4K-plus sq. ft. lot located at 535 N. 12th St. to the sale. The entire complex is going for $1.75M, according to Barmash, who said the number of potential buyers increased with the additional parcels.

When members of SILOAM, an HIV/AIDS wellness center, purchased the vacant complex in 2006, they envisioned expanding their services into the church. But when a SILOAM hired consultant upped the estimate of church restorations to $5.2M (up from a $4M Community Design Collaborative projection) they realized their resources wouldn’t enable them to undertake restorative actions. That led to the aforementioned fracas about the demolition, which SILOAM executive director Cathy Maguire said, through the cost of proceedings (legal and otherwise) and stress, overstretched the group’s assets and capabilities, physically and emotionally.

Side of the building

“It is heartbreaking for us,” said Maguire, who said when they realized the cost of restorations the plans converted to razing the church to make room for an outdoor labyrinth with a reflective garden and room for parking. “But we’ve gotten to a point where [selling the entire complex] is the only option.”

“We can’t even do a capital campaign right now for our mission,” she said, stressing that carrying on the group’s mission is its top priority.

Maguire explained how interested buyers seemed to her to misrepresent the degree of their interest. She said each time SILOAM members approached a Historical Commission hearing, a new potential buyer surfaced and voiced dissent against the church’s being demolished. The closest candidate to a real interest they experienced was Clay Studios, a Northern Liberties nonprofit whose owners’ interest disappeared shortly after L&I’s decision to preserve the church. Maguire described Clay Studios’ owners’ interest as “bogus.”

“There has not been one viable candidate,” she said.

Shot of the interior in the past. Photo credit: Philly Church Project.

Looking forward, if the church, the last remaining standing structure designed by architect Patrick Charles Keely, who designed countless 19th-century Catholic cathedrals in New England, built in 1848-1849, remains standing what could it become?

Across the world there have been interesting reuses of former churches. In Buenos Aires, they’ve turned an old church into a bookstore of divine proportions. In Pittsburgh, they’ve turned one into a brewery (Do y’think a brewery might do all right across the street from Union Transfer?). Yo Philly! What can you imagine would work here?

–Lou Mancinelli