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After a half-decade battle pitting preservationists against developers, and catching community members in between, Fishtown’s St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church appears slated for destruction.
The Philadelphia Historical Commission voted to allow the demolition of the historic structure in April 2020. A year and a half later, those permits have officially been issued by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, according to The Inquirer.
Soaring 150 feet above the corner of Berks and Memphis, a few blocks east of Frankford Avenue, the copper patina peaks are a landmark of the neighborhood, presiding over the tangle of nearby streets filled with low-rise rowhomes.
Erected between 1882 and 1885 as part of a design by local architect Ediwn Forrest Durang, the brownstone towers were crumbling. In 2019, large stones twice fell onto the sidewalk below.
The church, considered the oldest Polish Catholic church in the city, was in 2013 suppressed as an independent parish by the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Structural instability led to the building’s permanent closure in 2014. It was placed on the city’s historic register in 2015.
Developer Leo Voloshin came up with a plan to convert the building into apartments, and it was approved by the city’s zoning board — but then got shot down by a small group of neighborhood naysayers.
Frustrated by the lack of movement, Voloshin in January 2020 transferred his bill of sale to Humberto Fernandini, who reportedly paid $50,000 for the parcel. The new developer originally said he wanted to save the structure, but then said it was dangerously unstable and petitioned for permission to demolish.
The demolition isn’t expected to begin until mid-November, L&I told PhillyVoice, because it’ll have to be carefully planned to keep the neighborhood safe. L&I has mandated the developer hold meetings with neighbors before and during the demolition, per The Inquirer.
Before the twin steeples disappear for good, here’s an aerial look at their striking appearance.
The city board’s latest decision came with a demand by the commissioners that part of the facade be saved. But the spires look destined to come down.