The 100-year-old Neighborhood House of Christ Church - known for much of the first half of the 20th century as a settlement house but relatively unknown since then - is making a comeback.

The four-story brick building on North American Street behind the historic church will begin functioning in July as a fully accessible performing-arts venue, officials of the Christ Church Preservation Trust said Tuesday.

Officials marked the occasion, which began the last phase of a renovation effort, with a bit of champagne and some theatrics late Tuesday afternoon.

Donald Smith, executive director of the trust, said that once the final phase of construction was completed - including installation of air-conditioning, new theater lighting, and acquisition of a portable dance floor - Neighborhood House would be fully up and running as both a community meeting facility and performance venue. It has been partially open to performing-arts companies in recent years as spaces have been completed.

The building now features a 200-seat black-box theater, a smaller hall primarily for musical events, an exhibition space, and expanded space for the Christ Church archives. Some of the church's public and tourist programming also will operate from the building.

Smith noted that Neighborhood House has been under gradual renovation and reconstruction for about a decade, at a total cost of about $4 million - about $2 million raised privately and $2 million borrowed. The final phase is being funded by a $329,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation, which also financed installation of elevators providing access to the building's theater - a former gym located on the fourth floor.

Neighborhood House was "built a hundred years ago and served as a kind of settlement house," Smith said, noting that the Old City community housed many poorer immigrant families in the early 20th century. "It had a soup kitchen, education programs, and was quite active during the Depression," he said.

Since World War II, he said, the building "has been quiet."

As renovations have proceeded over the last decade, however, a latent interest in the building has emerged.

"There's a tremendous demand for use by community groups, and particularly start-up and emerging performing-arts groups," Smith said. "The big key to what's been going on is that we're now going to be handicapped-accessible."

Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com

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