The Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the nomination of two Catholic properties in South Philadelphia to be included on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, an inventory encompassing more than 22,000 properties and 15 historic districts across the city.
The decisions were voted unanimously in favor of designation by the commission on Friday.
The entities, including Church of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church, 1501 S. 10th St., and St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church Rectory, 808 Hutchinson St., were nominated for historical designation by Philadelphia-based historian and criminologist Celeste A. Morello in September.
Under Morello’s examination, both religious properties, which were constructed during the mid- to late 19th century, satisfy particular criteria for the city’s standards of historical designation.
These standards include maintaining “distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style or engineering specimen.”
Possessing Second Empire style, a “rarity” design in South Philadelphia east of Broad Street, St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church Rectory was completed in the late 1870s, when it was home to Vicar General of the Archdiocese Maurice A. Walsh until his death in 1888, according to Morello’s research.
“This building is kept very well maintained by the parish staff and all of the clergy,” Morello said. “And, it’s a very fine example of the Second Empire style.”
During the 1870s and 1880s, Morello says it’s estimated that up to 10,000 parishioners, including flocks of Irish immigrants, attended St. Paul’s.
Walsh’s residence at the rectory supports Morello’s other argument that the property meets the committee’s historical criteria for being “associated with the life of a person significant in the past.”
“The time when the rectory was getting built – St. Paul’s was one of the premier parishes in the city,” Morello said.
Upon completion, an archdiocesan newspaper, “The Catholic Standard,” named the rectory the “finest in the city,” also according to Morello’s research.
Located off of 10th and Christian streets, the Bella Vista church itself, which is actually of Gothic Design, was historically designated in 1980.
Several blocks south, Church of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church meets another criteria of “owing to its unique location or singular physical characteristic, represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood, community or City.”
Serving as a prominent landmark of the Passyunk Square neighborhood, Annunciation is one of the few Gothic Revival buildings in this area of South Philly, representing “an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood,” as stated in Morello’s nomination.
“It’s the only Catholic Church that has been sustained in that area,” Morello said. “It tells a lot about the people themselves – what they think about their church. It’s in pristine condition.”
She says subsequent architects worked to imitate the church’s distinct brick patterns as new additions were added onto the property in an effort to make the building aesthetically conform. Morello attributes these distinguished design workings to the parishioners’ care for the church.
Both Church of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church and St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church Rectory are owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
At last Friday’s meeting, a representative of the Archdiocese did not testify at the hearing, but in a statement to SPR, the Archdiocese says it has “no position on the matter one way or the other.”
However, in the past, the Archdiocese has noted financial concerns related to the historic designation of its properties in the past, which has led to opposition to some nominations.
During a public hearing regarding the St. Rita of Cascia’s shrine in January, Archdiocese of Philadelphia lawyer Michael Phillips said that, over the last decade, collectively $63 million was spent caring for Archdiocese properties, including $5.5 million on facade repairs alone, as reported by SPR.
“Non-opposition to it is a tacit kind of support for the nomination,” Morello said.