The Philadelphia Historical Commission will meet Friday to decide whether to allow the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia to destroy two historically recognized buildings it owns, and build a 25-story apartment, office, and retail complex in their place, in order to finance cathedral repairs and expand its ministry.
The dean of the cathedral says the cathedral’s survival depends on this plan. Preservationists counter that the cathedral’s interests in this case do not in any way trump the public interest.
From the Philadelphia Daily News:
The cathedral on South 38th Street, known as the Church of the Saviour until it was named the cathedral in 1991, was built in 1855 and redesigned in 1889 by noted ecclesiastical architect Charles M. Burns. After a devastating fire, Burns redesigned it again in 1902. Burns also designed the two three-story brownstones on Chestnut Street that the cathedral wants to knock down. The houses, fashioned to complement the brownstone cathedral, serve as its rectory and parish house.
All three properties are on the National Register of Historic Places and were placed on the local register in 1981.
A decade ago, the dean of the cathedral, the Rev. Richard Giles, with the backing of Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., renovated the cathedral interior – widely considered the finest intact Victorian interior in the region – by obliterating elaborate murals by Edwin Blashfield, and removing sculpture, furniture, and pews. The actions shocked many preservationists and parishioners alike.
Now the cathedral is back with another proposal that seeks to alter its own historic fabric, and this time, the proposal has substantial policy implications, preservationists say.
“It represents a grave danger of widening the interpretation of the [preservation] ordinance,” Gallery said. “It opens the opportunity for other owners of multiple historic properties to make the claim that demolition of one should be allowed in order to preserve another.”
The dean of the cathedral, Judith Sullivan, and David Yeager, head of Radnor Property Group, the cathedral’s private partner, say that is exactly what they want to do.
“We are petitioning for demolition of the buildings,” Sullivan said during a recent interview.
“In order to save the cathedral,” Yeager said, completing her thought.
“In order to save the cathedral,” Sullivan affirmed.