St. Laurentius Church was the oldest Polish Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, established in 1882 by Polish immigrants who wanted a parish of their own. The church was named after St. Lawrence, a deacon who was martyred under the Roman Emperor Valerian. The church was located in the Fishtown neighborhood, at Berks and Memphis Streets.
St. Laurentius Church was founded in 1882 by Polish immigrants who had come to Philadelphia in search of a better life. The church building was a Gothic Revival structure, designed by architect Edwin Forrest Durang and was built on land that had been donated by a local businessman. It had three naves, a wooden altar, a pulpit, statues and cut-glass windows. The sanctuary was decorated with oil paintings depicting the life of Christ and his Saints. The church had two 150-foot spires that towered over the area.The church also had a school, which opened in 1890 and was run by the Felician Sisters, a Polish order of nuns. The school merged with Holy Name of Jesus Parish School in 2014, but remained open.
The church was closed in 2014 by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, citing structural issues and a risk of collapse. The church had been built with brownstone, which is a soft stone that is susceptible to weathering and decay. The Archdiocese estimated that it would cost $3.5 million to restore the church, while some supporters claimed it would only cost $700,000.
The church was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2015, after a campaign by some neighbors and activists who wanted to save the building. However, the city issued a demolition permit in 2020, after more pieces of the facade fell off and endangered the public safety.
The demolition began in August 2022, starting with the removal of the spires by hand. The Philadelphia Historical Commission ordered the developer to preserve or rebuild the front face of the church in any new development. The developer planned to build an eight-story, 45,000 square foot residential building on the site with 49 apartments, but faced an appeal from some residents.
St. Laurentius Church was a historic and cultural landmark for the Polish community and Fishtown residents. It witnessed many generations of faith and devotion. Its demolition marked the end of an era and a loss of heritage for many people.
Matthew Christopher PA Philadelphia Apr 27, 2023 Abandoned Places Architecture History