If you've spent any kind of time in West Philly, it's possible you've noticed the former Christ Memorial Church at 43rd & Chestnut. This historic building was constructed in 1887, according to Hidden City, and was severely damaged by a lightning storm in 2004. The storm caused the building's stunning steeple to collapse, and the structure has never really recovered. Due to problems with the insurance company, the congregation ultimately moved on to a new location in 2007, selling the building to a developer. Back in 2011, we brought this injured building to your attention, noting that a homeless shelter continued to operate there despite the worrisome condition of the premises.
Last week, a reader tipped us off that the building was undergoing new renovations. We passed by and spied scaffolding around the area where the steeple once stood and where the building appeared to be crumbling on previous visits. The only information we can glean from permits is that the roof is being repaired.
As we mentioned, this building has been owned by developers for seven years, with a homeless shelter utilizing some of the space inside. To our knowledge, the shelter continues to operate here. Could the renovation pictured above be the beginning of a larger effort to bring the structure back into full use? Could some larger scale adaptive reuse be on the horizon, a la the church at 27th & Girard currently being converted into apartments? Or were the property owners just sick of owning a building that looked like it was ready to crumble?
One thing that the renovation does tell us is that demolition seems very unlikely at this time. If the owners wanted to tear down the building, we can't imagine they'd be putting any real money into fixing it up. So in a city full of endangered churches, it seems like we can perhaps be a little less worried about one of them on this Monday morning.