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Philadelphia panel saves historic Catholic church from demolition

Laurentius Philadelphia
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The owners of the property want to raze the building, but the commission says not enough has been done to find an alternative.

The 19th-century St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church has become the center of a legal debate between the development company that bought the property and the Philadelphia Historical  Commission, which has refused to approve the proposal to demolish the historic Fishtown landmark. The owner has argued that the structure is too far gone to save and urge the immediate razing of the former church building, while the government panel refused to move forward until alternative options were presented.

The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the demolition was supported by a report from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which suggested that any preservation efforts should only be focused on the parts of the building that remain the strongest, rather than attempt to save the entire building. They wrote:

“We sincerely regret having to provide this sobering report, but the building has simply run out of time, and public safety is our overarching priority.”

The current owner of the property, a company headed by developer Humberto Fernandini, has commissioned numerous reports that suggest the church’s deteriorating twin spires could crumble within the next three years. It also argues that the conversion of the church for repurposing would be more expensive than demolition, and the converted building would be ill-suited to other functions. The Philadelphia Inquirer supplied minutes from the meeting:

“You’re going to spend an awful lot of money to partially demolish the church, save what can be saved, and that money then is followed up by a lot more money to build apartment buildings you couldn’t rent for much money. The juice is not worth the squeeze in that one.

Fernandini’s arguments did not persuade the panel, however, as the members questioned why the development company had not brought before the panel even one alternative to demolition. Crux Now reports that committee member Amy Stein called the lack of presented options “disturbing,” before suggesting that the meeting between the owner and the architectural panel should not even have taken place without realizing such options. Stein said:

“We have heard testimony after testimony about one option, which is complete demolition of the building, removal of the towers from the south side, and it’s as if nothing else was studied,” she said. “I do respect the immediacy is part of the concern; safety is part of the concern, but very few applications come in front of us with zero options.”

The city’s committee further argued that Fernandini’s company had stated when it purchased the property that its goal was to keep the building standing. They went on to question if this was ever the case, since the company appears to not have explored the possibility of preserving the grounds, as shown by the lack of proposals for its restoration.

This matter is set to appear before the entire historical commission on August 14.

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