As long as I can remember, I have loved old buildings and historic places. However, it was not until I moved to Philadelphia that historic preservation became a professional focus.
I’m a non-driver who walks a couple of miles every day. While out and about, I notice that murals are being torn down, blocked or trashed.
I also notice that developers are demolishing historic resources, including houses, movie theaters and the church where Marian Anderson learned to sing and the congregation nurtured her talent.
Philadelphia’s construction boom is fueled by the ill-conceived residential tax abatement. Historic structures are being lost because only new construction is exempt from taxes. And it’s not just happening in gentrifying neighborhoods. A developer wants to demolish the 113-year-old building that’s home to the Society Hill Playhouse to build condominiums for the one percent.
And then there’s Rev. Terrence Griffith, pastor of the First African Baptist Church, the oldest African American Baptist church in Pennsylvania and the fifth oldest in the country. The church has been continuously occupied since the Department of Licenses and Inspections filed a complaint in April. L&I is concerned about the 16th Street wall and parapet (see arrow). That section is separate from the building which houses the main sanctuary. The same sanctuary where Rev. Griffith held Sunday Worship today.
The ancestors are rolling their eyes at this out-of-order pastor who is hell-bent on selling the historic church to a developer who plans to demolish it.
Rev. Griffith ranted and raved before the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which voted to list the First African Baptist Church on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. In my comments before the vote, I noted:
With or without the east parapet, the First African Baptist Church of Philadelphia is a place where history happened. The church retains its historical significance to the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation.
If we do move, then we do want to preserve the history of this place [and] we will consider making the church a museum.
Rev. Griffith owes it to the ancestors to explore alternative uses for an edifice that was built with their blood, sweat and tears.