Northeast Times

New plans for a parcel with a vaunted history

A va­cant lot re­placed the once stand­ing 100-year old Frank­ford Group Min­istry Church, Monday, May 21, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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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. ••

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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.

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You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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