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The current state of Philly’s churches and sacred spaces, in five charts

A new Pew report dives into the past, present, and future of Philly’s churches

There are about 839 remaining sacred spaces in Philadelphia.
Photo by Melissa Romero

It may seem like every other day a church in Philly gets demolished or turned into apartments. But in reality, a mere 10 percent of sacred spaces have been repurposed, and nearly two dozen have been razed, according to a new report.

Those are just some of the findings from new report issued by Pew, which took a deep dive into the past, present, and future of Philly’s historic sacred spaces, which for the study’s purpose were defined as structures built for religious purposes before 1965.

The researchers identified 839 historic sacred spaces remaining as of early 2016 (a couple have been demolished since then or marked for demolition). And despite common perceptions, a majority of them appeared to be relatively good shape.

Yet the report comes out as Philly’s sacred spaces grapple with dwindling congregations and heated preservation battles over non-historically designated structures. In 1910, there were seven churches on Christian Street between Broad and 21st alone. Today, two remain. Another South Philly sacred space, the Christian Street Baptist Church, is currently embroiled in a battle between preservationists and a developer who wants to raze it and build rowhomes on the site.

The report serves to highlight some of the successful ways that sacred spaces have adapted to modern times. Graduate Hospital’s Shiloh Baptist Church for example, was turned into a performance venue and now serves as a major community hub for the neighborhood.

To get a full grasp on the current state of Philly’s historic sacred spaces, consider these five charts and maps.

The majority of sacred spaces are located in Center City.

Thirteen percent of the 839 remaining sacred structures—no matter their current purpose—are located in Greater Center City. The southern and far northeast neighborhoods have the least amount of sacred spaces.

The majority of them are still used for religious purposes.

Of the 839 total structures accounted for, 83 percent remain in use today for religious purposes. Another two percent are used as worship sites, though not as frequently as a normal congregation. And all of them happen to be Catholic churches.

5 percent of sacred spaces sit unused.

The report found that from 2011 to 2015, 39 of the 839 structures were vacant. Within that same time period, 23 sacred spaces were demolished. Rachel Hildebrandt of Partners for Sacred Places estimated that 22 were razed by developers.

But a small handful of churches have been repurposed.

The report found that 82 structures, or 10 percent of the entire inventory, have found a second coming as everything from residential to performance venues to community centers. Most of these adaptive reuse projects are located in Greater Center City.

Most sacred spaces get turned into multifamily residential developments.

Of the 5 percent of structures have been repurposed, most of them are now residential or single-family homes. Less common purposes include offices and commercial space.