High Rise Will Replace Historic Brownstones in West Philly

Another piece of Philadelphia history seems as though it will soon be demolished. A 25-story mixed-use high rise featuring apartments, retail and office space is planned for 38th & Chestnut next to the Philadelphia Episcopal Church in University City. Last summer, the Historical Commission granted the Church permission to demolish two historic brownstones located on Chestnut Street to make way for the new building. The Church has hired Radnor Property Group to construct the building, which could be completed by 2015, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The church
The brownstones

The decision to allow demolition prompted John Gallery, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, to tell PlanPhilly last year that applicants committed “a very serious series of offenses.”  The Church applied for permission to raze the two homes on the grounds that the demolition would allow them to save the Church itself, by claiming it was in the necessary public interest. They argued construction of the tower would support their mission to provide social services and contribute a revenue stream to help renovate their Cathedral, according to PlanPhilly.

The stories (hyperlinked above) delineate a controversy between whether the Church actually does have the funds available to finance a restoration of the cathedral without toppling the historic brownstones. At the heart of the matter is whether two buildings should be destroyed in order to save another one. Located at 3723 and 3725 Chestnut St., the homes make up the Church’s parish house. They were designed by Charles M. Burns and listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1981, the same year the cathedral was listed.

Brownstones in 1969

According to Hidden City, the matter was resolved last month when the Church, the Preservation Alliance, and the Radnor Property group all agreed on a settlement that would allow the demolition of the historic brownstones. This settlement primarily involved the crafting of a detailed plan and timeline for renovation of the cathedral, and a clear description of the financial mechanisms that will enable this renovation.

As this project now appears to be moving forward, it will just add to the high rise development taking place in University City. Last September, workers broke ground at 37th & Market on an 11-story University City Science Center tower. The Science Center is also working on another building at 3601 Market St., this time for student housing. And Drexel is building The Dana and David Dornsife Center at 36th & Spring Garden. And there are other projects too! Yes, a decade from now University City will look totally different. Will this trend continue in the decades to come? We’d bet on it.

–Lou Mancinelli