Former church in Germantown to house school

Developer Ken Weinstein is overseeing the renovation of the former St. Peter's Episcopal Church.
Developer Ken Weinstein is overseeing the renovation of the former St. Peter's Episcopal Church. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 18, 2013

The sanctuary is gutted. The stained-glass windows, including two Tiffanys and two by Violet Oakley, are gone, safe in the arms of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The altar and reredos, carved from Caen stone in 1896 by a Germantown craftsman named William J. Grueler at a cost of $2,500 ($70,000 in 2013 dollars), sit almost unnoticed in the darkened sanctuary.

Things might have been worse for the 140-year-old St. Peter's Episcopal Church, at Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street in Germantown, shuttered since April 2005, when its dwindling congregation found it impossible to keep up the four buildings and two-acre site.

Two of those buildings were "just a couple of years away from complete collapse," said developer Ken Weinstein, who has been rehabbing and repurposing old buildings in the region since 1989.

Weinstein has partnered with the Waldorf School of Philadelphia to acquire St. Peter's from the Diocese of Pennsylvania and renovate it as ths school's permanent home, which is expected to open for the 2014-15 academic year, he said.

Sale of the property from the diocese closed in June for $435,000. The project cost, including renovation, will total $5 million, said Weinstein, who will lease the property to the school with an eye toward eventual sale.

St. Peter's buildings were designed by architects Frank Furness and George Wattson Hewitt and built between 1873 and 1883. The church, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985, is part of the Tulpehocken Station Historic District, which includes such gems as the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion.

There is a rectory that the Rev. Judith Beck, who was priest in charge of St. Peter's from 1990 to 1999, said was designed by Furness himself, while the Gothic-style church, chapel, and parish house were Hewitt's work.

Waldorf, which educates children from nursery school through middle school, opened in 1996. It has rented space on the New Covenant Church campus on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy, "but has outgrown it," said Alexandra Borders, director of admissions at the local school, one of 900 Waldorf schools worldwide.

The idea of St. Peter's kept circling back, Borders said, but "we couldn't afford it on our own." Weinstein, whose Trolley Car Diner is across the street from the school, was "the final piece of the puzzle," she said.

Beck knew Waldorf was interested in St. Peter's, and was "thrilled" that one of Furness & Hewitt's "finest church buildings" would be preserved.

The diocese is obligated to replace the glass in the windows of the sanctuary, which will be used by the school as its "Great Hall" meeting space, he said.

Renovation efforts will focus on reducing the heating and cooling costs, said Weinstein, who has projects elsewhere in Philadelphia as well as in Upper Darby, Norristown, and Flourtown.

Borders said that solving the space problem has led the school to reach out to prospective students and their families farther out from Northwest Philadelphia and into Center City.

Borders believes many newer families would be interested in buying properties in the surrounding neighborhood.

Elfant Wissahickon real estate agent Christopher Plant, who brokered the sale of the school, said that some parents are thinking of moving close by, and many already live there.

"There is optimism about the neighborhood, and this kind of investment is already having a ripple effect," Plant said.

Ruth Feldman, an agent with Weichert Realtors/McCarthy Group, said the median sales price has increased in both the first and second quarters of this year, closed sales are up, and average days on market are down. Prices range to the high $200,000s for twins and high $400,000s for singles.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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