After six years of uncertainty and false starts, it seems that the 40th Street Methodist Episcopal Church will finally undergo demolition to make way for 7,000-square-feet of retail space—or so the Daily Pennsylvanian reports.
According to the DP, construction on the former house of worship, which stood at 125 S. 40th Street for 136 years, is expected to be complete by April 2014, but the developers, P&A Associates, have yet to release a specific work timeline. A search on Philadelphia License & Inspections site, though, does return multiple hits for the church address, one being a new construction permit that was issued in June to architectural firm Albert Taus & Associates and contractor Joe Freidman Construction Corp. If finished by next spring, the humble Romanesque-style two-story church—a gaping shell of its prior appeal—will become home to Dunkin Donuts, Whirled Peace Frozen Yogurt, Zesto Pizza and a fourth yet-to-be-identified commercial space.
Designed by leading mid-nineteenth century architects Samuel Sloan and Addison Hutton, the 40th Street Methodist Episcopal Church was home to three congregations before it was sold to P&A for $2 million in 2007. The previous owners, St. Joseph’s Baptist Congregation, worshipped in the village sanctuary for 50 years until it moved to a larger space six years ago, according to Hidden City Philadelphia. Prior to St. Joseph’s, it served First Church of the Covenanters from 1908 to 1954, which took over the church from Centennial Methodist Episcopal—the budding congregation that originally purchased the land in 1860 and erected Methodist Episcopal in 1871.
Whether construction will actually finish by next year is cause for skepticism. After all, as originally reported by PlanPhilly, 40th Street Methodist Episcopal was to undergo demolition in October 2012, but the church still stands on the grounds at 40th and Sansom Streets. As for what’s caused the delay, P&A founders Alan Casnoff and Peter Shaw have remained elusive about details in the press. (The founders were unavailable for comment prior to publication of this piece. We will update once we speak with them.)
The permit situation may shed some light, though. In April 2011, two separate permits were first issued to contractors Geppert Bros—a demo permit for complete demolition of the church, and a zoning/use permit for demolition to vacant lot. But, in September 2012, a new demolition permit was issued to a different contractor, J F Huebner & Son Inc., which expired April of this year. An administrative permit for amendments and revised plans—an extension of that permit—was revoked in May 2013.
When we stopped by the site this week, a “Cease Operations/Stop Work Order,” filed on May 15, 2013, was posted on a side door of the church. According to the posted notice, asbestos was found on the property and, for the work to continue, a permit needs to be secured in order to proceed with abating the problem. The violation notice, last updated on July 26, 2013, has been sent to court.
In looking for some insight from the community organization perspective, Spruce Hill Community Association’s Zoning Committee Chair Barry Grossbach told West Philly Local that the Daily Pennsylvanian article from September 15 was the first he heard about new developments, and that SHCA has “not had any contact with these folks.” When we reached to people in the West Philly community, we were met overall with criticism of the project.
“Seems to me to be a colossal mistake to tear it down,” J. Matthew Wolfe, a West Philly lawyer, wrote to West Philly Local. “Saving buildings like that one makes the neighborhood a more pleasant place to live and work. They’re going to spend the money tearing down that sturdy stone building and put up a cheap low-slung glass and plastic building with two or three stores in it? How can that be economically advantageous?”