There was no water at the well of the Philadelphia Historical Commission for those trying to stop the demolition of the historic double-spired Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street.
On Friday, the Commission went into executive session and then issued an opinion that the demotion permit approved for the previous owner, the non-profit Siloam, remains valid for the new owners, commercial developers John Wei and Mika He.
The Patrick Keeley-designed 1849 brownstone and copper Church where St. Katherine Drexel was baptized seemed closer than ever to the wrecking ball. Its historic distinction includes St. John Neumann presiding over confirmations and twin spires that, by some accounts, were designed to point out the area where Benjamin Franklin flew his kite.
"It is the opinion of this commission that that demolition permit stands and will be honored by L&I," Commission Chairman Sam Sherman said, referring to the Department of Licenses and Inspection.
"Mr. Chairman, would you entertain any - " began Attorney Sam Stretton, representing the Callowhill Neighborhood Association.
"No," Sherman said, cutting him off.
Thus sent out into the hallways without the new hearing they sought on the hardship finding that allowed the permit to be approved, the neighbors said they would nonetheless continue the fight.
The case now returns to the Board of License and Inspection Review, which had frozen the permit and asked for the opinion from the Historical Commission.
That board meets again on Tuesday, but it was not known if the matter would be heard that quickly. The stay of the demolition permit remains in place.
Stretton said the Callowhill neighbors would also continue their fight in the court system, where a Common Pleas Court Judge overturned the L&I Board's reversal of the permit, albeit in a case with the prior owners as the plaintiff. That appeal is now in Commonwealth Court.
Stretton said the Historical Commission allowing Wei and He to go through with a demolition while the case was under appeal was unwise.
"It's a very bad precedent to allow a demolition while it's on appeal," Stretton said. "It will come back to haunt them when they want to stop a demolition themselves."
Although much of the discussion of hardship focused on Siloam's inability to sell the property, the Commission said the eventual $1.12 million sale to new owners does not invalidate that finding.
Andrew Ross, the city attorney for the Historical Commission and L&I Review Board, said the hardship finding "runs with the land" not an owner and that the sale was made only subsequent to the demolition permit being approved.
"The building was sold with approval for the demolition permit," he said.