St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Germantown was built between 1873-1883 for Henry Howard Houston, the Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Houston was interested in developing the surrounding area, and the church is believed to be part of his plan to attract wealthy clientele to settle in the area. The church itself, the adjacent rectory, and the chapel/Sunday school were designed by noted Philadelphia architects Frank Furness and George Hewitt in a style that incorporated Gothic and high Victorian elements. The parish house was the final addition, designed by Theophilus P. Chandler Jr. in 1898. It is rumored that Walt Whitman frequented the campus.
Dwindling membership and a consequent inability to fund the costs of operation led to St. Peter’s closure in 2005. The buildings had been on the National Register of Historic Places for 40 years and contained a number of historical treasures, including two Tiffany stained glass windows and two created in 1909 by celebrated muralist Violet Oakley. Many people in the area were concerned that they would be lost. In a somewhat controversial move, after the closure the windows were taken to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the E. M. Skinner organ was removed and placed in another Philadelphia church.
When I first visited the church in 2010 its prospects seemed bleak; later that year it would be placed on the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia’s list of most endangered sites. Churches in the Philadelphia area had been closing at an alarming rate and many were torn down rather than repurposed. However, in 2013, developer Ken Weinstein and the Waldorf School chose to rehabilitate the buildings and move their school onto the property. While some modifications were made to the structures to improve heating/cooling efficiency, they were committed to keeping the character of the site intact. It is a rare but welcome ray of sunshine in the often gloomy landscape of Philadelphia church closures.