There’s a vacant lot at Orthodox and Griscom streets.
That’s nothing new in Frankford, where there is no shortage of empty lots, but, this is one that’s newly vacant, and an idea has been forming to make it a neighborhood asset before it becomes just another weed farm. Think water-permeable concrete that could be used for local events and for parking. Think garden.
Of course, while conjuring those images, nice as they are, it’s necessary to consider finding the people and organizations willing to do the work to make it all happen.
Consider them found. Representatives of the nearby Frankford Friends Meeting, St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Frankford Historical Society as well as the Unity Friends Meeting will get together Thursday afternoon at the Frankford Community Development Corporation to talk things over with the property’s owner, Frankford Group Ministry.
For more than 100 years, up until a few weeks ago, this whole lot of nothing on the northwest corner of Orthodox and Griscom streets had been a church, a big one. FGM bought the former Central United Methodist Church in the late 1990s. Frankford Group Ministry provided social services through city contracts until the city cut ties when budgetary problems became acute in 2008. For example, a city curfew center was housed in the building.
The Frankford Group Ministry in the last year had to face the possibility the Romanesque structure would fall down on its own if somebody didn’t knock it down first. Last August, one of its walls did collapse, which added some urgency.
“It’s a safety issue,” the Rev. Thomas Brooks, FGM’s board president, said in February.
The city stepped in, providing the cash for demolition. Such help didn’t come cheaply. Tearing down the old church cost about $200,000, which FGM didn’t have, and still doesn’t.
There’s a city lien on the property now, and the city is likely to want its money sooner rather than later. Even if the property could be sold, it’s doubtful it would fetch enough to satisfy that debt or any others FGM amassed.
There has to be some way of getting the church’s debt either forgiven or substantially reduced, said Joe Hohenstein, clerk of the Frankford Friends Committee, which is right across Orthodox Street from the lot and the church’s parsonage. He is looking for help from area lawmakers and from city government, and said the CDC has been helping to get things organized, as has Edgardo Gonzalez, an aide to state Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D-179th dist.).
If financial issues can be settled, he said, the Quakers, St. Mary’s and the historical society want to transform the lot into something that can have a variety of uses, while using the adjacent parsonage for offices.
“It’s not going to be just a parking lot,” he said Friday.
Certainly, parking is part of the plan. The Frankford Friends School and Meetinghouse needs parking. So do the members of St. Mary’s Indian orthodox congregation and the historical society.
Hohenstein said the talk has been of using water-permeable concrete on part of the lot that would, yes, provide parking spaces, but also would be used for play spaces for children and also could serve as a site for neighborhood events.
Letting a garden take shape on part of the property would work with the water-permeable concrete to manage storm water, he added.
The Frankford Friends and the Unity Friends Meeting, based on Waln Street, east of Frankford Avenue, and other Philadelphia Quaker groups could use the adjacent parsonage for offices and social programs, Hohenstein said.
The meeting Thursday, at 4:30 p.m. at the Frankford Community Development Corporation, 4900 Griscom St., has been scheduled to keep working on the details.
“The reason that this is going to happen is that you have very strong organizations involved,” Hohenstein said. “We’ve all put our heads together, so we’re going in the same direction.”
Moving the proposal forward is in the interest of all the neighborhood organizations involved, he said, but it’s “enlightened self-interest” in that it’s good for the neighborhood, too.
There was some unenlightened self-interest evident after the wall collapsed in August. Thieves stole some of the building’s stained glass. Recently, about 100 stained-glass windows were photographed and removed. Brooks said the ministry will try to sell the pieces to raise money for the demolition. ••
Down in pieces …
The recent demolition of the Frankford Group Ministry church at Orthodox and Griscom streets actually was the second stage taking down the church.
In 1992, the church’s tower, which could be seen throughout Frankford, was found to be unstable and dismantled. In 2008, FGM sank $70,000 into repairing a wall on the building’s Griscom Street side that began to buckle again this year.EndFragment EndFragment