West Kensington’s 140-year-old St. Boniface’s is no more

The empty site where St. Boniface Church used to stand. The church, at Hancock and Diamond St. at Norris Square in the West Kensington section of North Philadelphia, was built in 1872, was razed this week. Photo taken Wednesday morning, April 11, 2012. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
The empty site where St. Boniface Church used to stand. The church, at Hancock and Diamond St. at Norris Square in the West Kensington section of North Philadelphia, was built in 1872, was razed this week. Photo taken Wednesday morning, April 11, 2012. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )
Posted: April 12, 2012

St. Boniface Church, a regal brownstone that dominated Norris Square for 140 years, is no more.

The church, built in 1872 at the corner of Diamond and Hancock Streets in the West Kensington section of North Philadelphia, was razed as part of a $10 million redevelopment plan to build housing on the site.

The adjoining elementary school and rectory building still stands with the goal of incorporating them into the plan.

"It's very sad," said Patricia De Carlo, executive director of the Norris Square Civic Association, which is overseeing the project. "A lot of people here went to school and church here."

However, De Carlo said the building was in such disrepair that there was little choice. The cost to repair it was estimated at $7 million.

"There are just some buildings you can't sustain," she said. "We tried several different models, but they just wouldn't work."

Workers actually began demolishing the church about a month ago. But the front of the building was intact until this week, giving the illusion the church was still standing.

St. Boniface Roman Catholic parish was run by the Redemptorist order of priests until it was closed in 2006, according to The Philadelphia Church Project, a website that catalogs the city's vacant churches.

The church, situated at the edge of the English-style, was crumbling, with pieces falling to the ground. Scaffolding was erected to keep passerby from being injured.

The Norris Square Civic Association, which came up with the subsequent housing plan in 2008, bought the property for $643,500 in 2011.

The association intends to use about $10 million, which includes federal and state funds, to redevelop the block. That includes 15 units of mixed-income, coop housing where the church stood, and renovation of the rectory and school for use as offices, and a community and training center.

But just this week, 7th District Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez proposed to change some of zoning in the area, including the church lot, to single family homes.

De Carlo fears that could wreck the Norris Square Civic Association's plan for coop housing that's been in place since 2008. The association does not yet have building permits.

Regardless, St. Boniface is now gone, along with a piece of the city's history.

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