Thursday, May 14, 2009

They Sure Move Fast in Nicetown

Stumbled across a great item today: a comphrensive text and photo history of the former Roman Catholic parish of St. Ladislaus, Nicetown's Polish national parish. The parish, which was founded in 1906 and closed in 2003, was one of the last victims of the dreaded North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction. Frankly, I'm shocked it even made it to 2003.

Anyhow, because the place was promptly demolished, The Project hasn't really been able to learn much about it. Until today, that is.

The exterior reminds me a great deal of St. John Cantius. The interior strikes me as another sterling example of Polish extravagance, as seen in St. Adalbert, St. Laurentius and others. No one can really outclass the Polish when it comes to religious architecture, and this looked to been one of the best of them.

What's most striking about the case of St. Ladislaus is the quickness of its demolition. Most parishes languish for years before being Caveat Emptor'd, suffering through The Long Goodbye, or being bulldozed. Or, for the really unlucky parishes, a combination of one or all of them.

Ladislaus was done away in surprisingly quick fashion. The parish only closed 6 years ago, yet its buildings have already been demolished and replaced with a modern monstrosity of a megachurch. (The Triumph Baptist Church, if you want to know.) I'm just surprised that land in Nicetown was in such high demand. I'm also surprised that Triumph didn't just try to adapt the existing structures into something useable. Of course, given the Universal Church's disastrous flirtation with Pimp My Church, it's probably best that they spared Ladislaus the indignity.


  1. One statute of OUr Mother of Sorrows that was in that church is now at Our Mother of Sorrows in West Philadelphia.

  2. I thought this article about St. Ladislaus' demise would be of interest to this website's readers.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer; Sunday, March 14, 2004, Section C Page 4:

    "St. Ladislaus will fall so that Triumph Baptist may rise on the site in Nicetown.

    98 year-old Catholic Church giving way to newcmer

    Jim Remsen is Inquirer Faith life editor

    A Catholic past is giving way to a Baptist future at 1648 Hunting Park Ave. The shuttered stone edifice of St. Ladislaus Roman Catholic Church, whose twin spires and rose window have graced the Nicetown neighborhood for nearly a century, is about to be demolished by its new owner, the nearby Triumph Baptist Church.

    St. Ladislaus was a Polish-nationality parish that had nutured generations of working-class families after the towering Gothic church opened in 1906. But the active membership withered as people moved out of the neighborhood, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed the church in April, putting its two-acre complex of buildings up for sale.

    Triumph Baptist bought the property last month for $1.3 million and is preparing to build a much larger sanctuary for itself on the site, said the Rev. James Hall, pastor of the 5,000-member megachurch. St. Ladislaus does not have historic-preservation status, and Hall said no one had raised objections to the demolition.

    Workers for the Archdiocese removed St. Ladislaus' stained-glass windows, many of which depict Polish saints, as well as its statuary and massive crucifix, and exhumed the body of a priest buried on the grounds, Hall said. Wooden pews seating about 800 and a number of chandeliers remain - and are free to any takers, preferably other churches, before the razing, he added.

    Demolition is to begin in the next few weeks, with the new sanctuary slated for completion in summer 2005, Hall said. It will seat 2,100 - 2 1/2 times the capacity of the current building on Wingohocking Street - and have a horseshoe balcony that slopes to the floor and a baptismal pool on permanent view above a large choir loft. The rectory that adjoins the church also will be demolished, with a 300-seat chapel planned in its place. A convent building in the rear will be kept as a multipurpose center, Hall said, while the parish school building will share duty as administrative offices and Triumph's day-care center and school.

    The school building now houses the Center for Urban Theological Studies, a leadership-training center affiliated with Geneva College, but Hall said the center will relocate after its current academic year ends.

    Cost of the expansion project totals about $10 million, Hall said. A fund drive has raised about #3 million to date from Triumph's members, he said, and more could come from the sale of its Wingohocking (Street) building, which is appraised at $2.8 million.

    Triumph has become one of the largest congregations in the city under the leadership of Hall, 71. It was in the news last summer when its community development are invested $6.5 million to keep a neighborhood store, Supremo Food Market, afloat.

    St. Ladislaus was erected 'during the heyday of church building in Philadelphia," said Robert Jaeger of Partners for Sacred Places, a local advocacy group. When these aging churches change hands, he said, most new owners try to maintain them, and 'full demolition is not that common."

    The Rev. John Wendrychowicz, St. Ladislaus' last pastor, was philosophical about the turn of events.

    'Our people had become scattered around the area,' he said. 'Every church is special and sacred, but you can't declare everything historic. Otherwise, you couldn't live. You couldn't touch anything."