Demolition of shuttered church begins after long battle

Aug 20, 2022, 9:16 AM | Updated: Aug 21, 2022, 4:48 am

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Demolition of a shuttered 19th-century church in Philadelphia has begun following a yearslong battle by some neighbors to save the crumbling structure.

Crews last week surrounded the 140-year-old St. Laurentius Church in the Fishtown neighborhood with scaffolding, fencing and barricades. Neighbors gathered Wednesday to get their final look, taking pictures and pointing to the huge cross, once affixed to the building, that lay against a fence, KYW reported.

“I don’t want to see a church, regardless of denomination, to come down,” Margaret Ann Ramsey told KYW. “It’s always been part of the area, so it’s sad, especially for the people who belong to this parish.”

Michael Johnson of HC Site Construction told WTXF-TV that the work to dismantle the 150-foot spires is being done by hand, with material dropped through chutes to the basement to prevent vibrations from truck activity.

The city’s department of licenses and inspections issued a demolition permit almost a year ago, but officials said relocating utility poles and wires ringing the property took longer than expected. Crews also were told to wait until summer because of classes at a Catholic school next door, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

St. Laurentius is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and the Philadelphia Historical Commission has ordered the developer to preserve or rebuild the church’s front face in any new development. A zoning permit for a proposed eight-story 49-unit multifamily residential building is being appealed, the newspaper reported.

The church was built in 1882 with the donations of Polish immigrants. In 2014, the archdiocese of Philadelphia announced its closure, citing “vertical cracks” and a “heavily deteriorated” facade that threatened collapse absent a $3.5 million restoration. Supporters said their estimates totaled only $700,000. The historical commission added the church to the city’s historic register in 2015.

Concerns arose in 2019, when pieces of the facade crumbled, in one case with 6,000 pounds (2,720 kilograms) of rock breaking off a spire, puncturing steel scaffolding and falling into a fenced safety zone around the church, prompting closure of the nearby school for two days.

The archdiocese spent $135,000 to stabilize the building, and city inspectors said it appeared to be in better shape, but later two engineers hired by the new owner concluded that St. Laurentius had decayed substantially, with one predicting “at least partial collapse” within a decade. A structural engineer hired by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia said the building had remained standing despite dire assessments by a number of engineers.

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Demolition of shuttered church begins after long battle