The St. Laurentius Catholic School is scheduled to let out for the summer on June 17. Next door, demolition of the former church and current Fishtown landmark that shares its name will start soon after.
Last September, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a demolition permit for the brownstone church with soaring twin spires after determining the building was structurally unstable and in danger of collapse. The decision followed years of efforts both to preserve the 19th-century former Roman Catholic Church and to tear it down.
“St. Laurentius could have been a success story about saving a meaningful historic building through reuse,” L&I spokesperson Karen Guss said in a statement. “Instead it’s a sad story about the building becoming a threat to public safety and coming down.”
Demolition was delayed while workers waited for utility companies to relocate three poles and some wires around the property so work could safely begin, Guss said. Labor shortages and backlogged requests delayed the work, she said.
Since the academic year is almost over, L&I told the developer to wait until the school closes to begin demolition. In the meantime, workers have removed nonstructural materials from inside the church, Guss said.
Before demolition begins, the safety plan will be updated to include more specifics about protections such as netting, the types and locations of barriers, and dust control, she said.
When demolition does start at the corner of Berks and Memphis Streets, neighbors won’t suddenly see an empty space at the site. The church is to be taken down mostly by hand since it is next to the school and surrounded by rowhouses.
Demolition will begin no earlier than the week of June 20, according to L&I. The work is expected to take four months, including cleanup after demolition. The Streets Department is processing a necessary permit to close Memphis Street as necessary. A piece of Berks Street has been closed for more than five years, according to L&I.
“We understand how stressful this is for neighbors and the community,” Guss said. During demolition, L&I plans to conduct inspections on the site at least twice a day.
Residents have expressed frustration in the past that the building’s fate has been in limbo for years. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed the church in 2014, after engineers declared the building unsafe. A previous developer had planned to turn the church into apartments but gave up in the face of legal challenges by some neighbors.
The current property owner, developer Humberto Fernandini of 1600 Berks LLC, initially said he wanted to convert the church into apartments or offices when he bought the building from the archdiocese in 2020. But soon after, he asked for permission to demolish it.
The owner plans to replace the church with an eight-story multifamily residential building with 49 units. L&I issued a zoning permit for the proposal in January.
The church, which has been deconsecrated, is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Historical Commission said last year that any new development must retain or rebuild the church’s facade.