A preservation battle over a Bella Vista church with many twists and turns has ended in a surprising fashion: After a faulty historic designation, the Christian Street Baptist Church will most likely meet the wrecking ball instead if another buyer doesn’t come forward.
Due to what appears to be a bit more of a clerical error, the Historical Commission announced Monday that although it had voted in favor of adding the church at 1020-24 Christian Street to the Register of Historic Places, by the commission’s rules there actually weren’t enough majority votes at the meeting for the vote to stick.
Now, without protection from demolition, the church is most likely to be demolished by early next year, unless another buyer steps in.
This is confusing and has never happened before, according to the commission, so here’s the backstory: The congregation, unable to afford the upkeep of the late 19th-century church at 1020 Christian Street, listed the property for sale this past summer. Local developer Ori Feibush had it under contract that same day, and made plans to demolish the church and build five townhomes in its place.
But local preservationists stepped in and quickly nominated the church for historic designation. A classic battle ensued between preservationists on one side and Feibush and the congregation on the other.
On November 13, the battle apparently ended in favor of preservation when the Historical Commission voted 5-4 (with two members abstaining) to add the Christian Street Baptist Church to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Soon after, Feibush backed out of the contract and said the redevelopment was off.
But days later, the commission realized its error: With 11 commission members present for the vote and two abstaining, it needed at least six votes in favor of designation to make it a reality. That didn’t happen.
Feibush has now gone ahead and applied for a zoning permit to demolish the church. But, he is also marketing the property for sale at $1,550,000 and, as the listing states, willing to reassign the contract to another buyer.
If history is any indication, this won’t be the last the neighborhood hears of this church. Stay tuned.