It was just last week when we placed the Church of the Assumption on our Preservation Heatmap called "10 Spots to Save!" We were too late. As Hidden City revealed a couple days ago, CID Construction got a contract to begin demolition on Dec. 11, and it's hard to imagine that demolition not going forward at this point. The church "has stood at 1123 Spring Garden Street since 1848—longer than virtually every other building on Spring Garden," according to the Preservation Alliance, which has consistently advocated for its protection. It is also on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, but as you can see, that doesn't mean much when a development opportunity is at hand.
A few important points must be made about this church, beyond the grand figure it cuts on the street and the seeming impossibility that such a stalwart historical beauty could actually disappear.
First of all, this city venerates Saint Katharine Drexel—and why shouldn't we? The wealthy Drexel family heiress could have done almost anything (or nothing, actually), but she chose to be a crusader for social justice and racial tolerance under a modest religious habit. She used millions of her family money to take up the cause of Native Americans and African-Americans and was beatified in 1988. Her life—as a Catholic, as a Philadelphian—is a model for Catholics everywhere. And where did it begin? At the Church of the Assumption, where she was baptized. It was the beginning of her remarkable journey. And that's going to be torn down? Where are the Saint Katharine fans when you need them?
From a secular point of view, there's the architect, Patrick C. Keely, who was the most prolific ecclesiastical architect in American history. The Church of the Assumption is his oldest surviving building, representing a key moment in his evolution as a designer and thinker. It was, as the Preservation Alliance noted when it featured the church on its Most Endangered Properties list, "the first Catholic church in Philadelphia to feature twin spires, an effort to differentiate Catholic ecclesiastical architecture from Protestant."
The battle over the church has lasted for years, to the point where it seemed like a Pennsylvania death row prisoner: sentenced to a dreary fate that would never be carried out. But this time the threat feels real. Look at these images while you can.
· Curbed Philly's Preservation Heatmap: Top 10 Spots to Save!