City Rescues Church From Wrecking Ball

The church where St. Katharine Drexel was baptized won't be demolished.

The Church of the Assumption, which towers over 12th and Spring Garden Streets and is connected to our region's two Catholic saints, was saved from the wrecking ball. Philly's Historical Commission went one step further, giving it a "historic" marker for its architectural significance.

But saving the church puts the current owner in a financial crisis. Siloam Wellness, which serves the HIV and Aids community, operates out of the rectory next door. It wanted to demolish the church and turn it into a garden. Now it's responsible for renovations that could cost about $5 million, according to the Metro.

“We’re seriously disappointed and really as an organization have to look at all our options,” Siloam executive director Joe Lukach told the Metro. The nonprofit is a $700,000 a year operation. “The cost is millions we don’t have,” he told the Metro.

Turning the church into a garden would have increased the property value from $100 to $250 a square foot.

“It’s worth more dead than alive,” neighborhood preservationist Andy Palewski said last week before the hearing.

The church where St. Katharine Drexel was baptized in 1858 was abandoned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia more than 10 years ago. Palewski spearheaded the fight to save the church, arguing that it was the last tie to Drexel and should be deemed a landmark.

The Historical Commission designated the church "historic" because its believed to show off Philadelphia’s first-ever double-spired Catholic church. It's also the oldest remaining religious structure in the country designed by Patrick Charles Keely, who built over 600 American churches.

The artifacts inside were removed when the Archdiocese sold the church. Its significance to the Catholic Church reaches beyond St. Drexel. John Neumann, who helped consecrate the Church of the Assumption, also became a saint.

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