Usually, the saying “out with the old, in with the new” holds true for most things. Sometimes, however, something shiny and new isn’t preferable to something with age and beauty on its side. Such is the case with Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church, which a developer plans to knock down so he can build apartments on the site.
Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most distinctive churches. It was fashioned in the Gothic Victorian style, with peaked turrets, gables, and elaborate stained-glass windows. It is a major landmark in Spruce Hill, where it sits at the corner of 43rd and Chestnut Streets. Spruce Hill is rich in Victorian architecture owing to the fact that the neighborhood rose to prominence in the late 19th century, which was when Philly’s streetcar system was put into place. Workers could ride into Center City and live a little further away than they used to, which made for some lovely middle-class structures that still stand today. Unfortunately, only a small amount of Spruce Hill’s buildings are protected by the city Historical Commission, and Christ Memorial Reformed Episcopal isn’t one of them.
Guy Laren, owner of Constellar Corp., owns the church currently. Last week, he secured a permit to tear it down. A hoard of pro-preservation advocates are upset that they can’t do anything to save it, including Patrick Grossi, the advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance and a member of Mayor Jim Kenney’s Historic Preservation Task Force. Grossi told the Philadelphia Inquirer that, if the Task Force worked more efficiently, they could have filed for a demolition delay “which would allow the Historical Commission to review a building’s importance before the city granted a demolition permit.
If the church demolition actually takes place, it will be the largest demolition of a house of worship since since St. Bonaventure Roman Catholic Church in North Philadelphia, another Gothic treasure, was razed in 2013.