The really red historic church at 41st and Ludlow could become a rock climbing and fitness gym

February 11, 2020

Rendering of proposed repurposing of church at 41st and Ludlow into a climbing gym, including the addition of a glass tower.

A plan to convert a 19th century church at 41st and Ludlow into a climbing and fitness facility drew praise from the Spruce Hill Community Association zoning committee during its meeting on Monday, but may meet some resistance at the Philadelphia Historical Commission because of three-story glass tower that will be added to the building.

The owners of Reach Climbing and Fitness recently bought the building (see photo below), which until late last fall was occupied by St. James Pentecostal Church. The bright red church tucked off of Market Street in a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood was built in 1845. It housed the Monumental Baptist Church, the second oldest African American Baptist Church in the city and the first in West Philadelphia. 

The church is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and that’s why the owners are shopping their idea around. Zoning doesn’t prohibit a climbing and fitness facility in the building, but they need permission to add the glass tower, which would house rope climbing.

“Where you’ll run into potential problem is where the addition obscures the southern elevation of a historic building,” said Paul Steinke, head of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and West Philly resident.

Steinke was invited to the meeting for input on the plan before it goes to the Historical Commission. Alterations to the outside of the building listed in the Register of Historic Places requires commission approval.

“Everyone wants to see this project succeed but I think it’s going to be a tough sell,” Steinke said. “But we’ve lost too many churches and we need to find ways to save them.”

The facility would also include a yoga studio and lounge areas and, like its other facility in Bridgeport, Pa., would include an extensive youth program aimed at local children.

24 Comments For This Post

  1. JP Says:

    The developers won’t be happy until they’ve ripped every bit of soul and substance from West Philly. This isn’t even a proposal for housing. A reach climbing and fitness center? With a yoga studio? Come on.

  2. Bill H Says:

    >>> This isn’t even a proposal for housing

    that’s accurate

  3. Interested neighbor Says:

    A climbing gym in an abandoned church would be a great addition to the neighborhood.

  4. American Dream Says:

    The climber’s church will somehow complement University Place 3.0 and the Platinum Corridor, as our beloved neighborhood is transformed into part of the greater “Cellicon Valley”.

  5. American Dream Says:

    Or maybe it is to be called an “Innovation District”, as Philadelphia Magazine named it?

  6. G Says:

    I want to see the building preserved as much as anyone but with people living in poverty a mere block away, can’t someone come up with a more fitting use that serves the diverse population better? We can’t focus all efforts on students who come and go. We need to be more concerned with sustained community.

  7. Been here a minute Says:

    As a mother with kids, I love this. We need more businesses that support family life and offer our city kids the chances to do the same things as suburban kids.

  8. Mike R Says:

    So much better than more bland housing. A welcome addition.

  9. Michael Jakubowski Says:

    I’m all for it: we need adaptive re-use to preserve the unused church building or they will all be lost!!!

  10. Agreed Says:

    Adaptive reuse is something we need to embrace. Old buildings don’t sit around decay. Tax exempt land begins generating revenue for the city.

    This will serve a large existing (and predominantly non-college) climbing community that’s been waiting for a gym to open up closer.

  11. bw Says:

    adaptive re-use of a beautiful building for a community based wellness facility – do it. the historical commission should get behind this quickly.

    worst (and ultimately most likely) case, it sits empty for 5-10 years, rots away from the inside, is deemed unsafe and then demolished for more student housing.

    be careful with your strong opposition folks!!

  12. American Dream Says:

    Looking at the pricing on their website, I’d say “community based” for some…

  13. John Says:

    Need to find an architect. Try the yellow pages.

  14. goldenmonkey Says:

    Thankfully, not you. Not like you’ve ever climbed anything higher than a paver.

    Move away. There are plenty of places in the city with affordable housing. The entire area is going to be dramatically transformed over the next 20 years. I can’t wait. You’d rather watch buildings crumble and burn than bring tax dollars into our school system. We get it. You hate children or simply don’t want this city to succeed.

  15. goldenmonkey Says:

    apologies John, we posted at the same time.

  16. concerned citizen Says:

    I support this. Great re-use and we need more gyms/fitness resources that are family-friendly in West Philly.

  17. Rick Myers Says:

    As one person on here would like to have you think, I won’t say any names (Rick Myers), this church is made entirely of Legos. And really weird, the foundation, gooey chewy taffy. The former pastor’s Zack.

  18. Nick Lai Says:

    I will challenge any of you to a climb off.

    I am really fast but I only do free solo.

  19. Anthony West Says:

    Our longterm neighbor on 44th Street was born in that church & worships in that church. I am 100% on board with whatever this congregation chooses to do with its property.

    Churches do move, people. Like all other property-owners, they have a right to move if moving serves their congregation. Churches should not be trapped by laws that force them to serve irreligious “historic” missions unless the historic agencies fully fund their preservation of church architecture.

  20. TopArchitect Says:

    My wife is shaking her head but ohh, I would love to bring these old draftsman and surveyor hands out of retirement for a project like this. One thing I have noticed in all of the countries I have lived, Lisbon, Vienna, Schtadt, Marrakesh, Peru, old churches exist and are being re-purposed to suit modern needs. Excellent! One thing I have always told my students is be patient. Study architecture. One cannot become great over night and many will never become a Top Architect. However, be patient and truly study. What I see is an old church from, it seems, the mid nineteenth century. What I envision is a modern fitness center with a yoga studio as well. My daughter began to study and practice yoga over twenty years ago and she is able to juggle a life full busy body chores quite well. Turn, turn turn.

  21. Daniel Says:

    This church was built over a cemetery and most of the graves are still in place – they only moved the ones that were directly under the foundations for the perimeter wall. At that time, the congregation changed its name to Monumental Baptist Church – the church building is the monument that replaced the original gravestones.

    Any future use should be respectful of, and properly memorialize, the many people buried on the site.

    (Source is

  22. American Dream Says:

    Great work from Keeping Society of Philadelphia. That report is truly impressive.

  23. Potholeluvr143 Says:

    Kudos to the artist for capturing the essence of a West Philly pothole. Bonus kudos for plotting the bicyclist in its upcoming path.

  24. wireless Says:

    “The lot was deeded to Philip Bartho by Peter Rose and wife Ethel on August 29, 1829.”
    Mary Rose and her sister Elizabeth Bispham were titled adjacent property in 1765 and 1766 respectively, (including the Rose family Burial Ground opposite corner from church).

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