1249-53 S. 19th Street, Philadelphia
Furness & Hewitt, 1874
Significance: Constructed in 1874 as the Memorial Church of the Holy Comforter, Nineteenth Street Baptist Church was designed by renowned architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt. Even without its original corner spire, the striking green serpentine stone building is one of the pair’s most colorful and original church designs, reflecting the fashionable tastes of the High Victorian Gothic period. The church has been home to its current congregation since 1944.
Threat: Serpentine stone is a notoriously fragile building material, and slow deterioration reached a critical tipping point in 2011 when a partial wall collapse led to the building’s condemnation. Emergency stabilization by parishioners and volunteers has kept the building standing, but comprehensive repairs are beyond the current means of the congregation.
Recommendations: A University of Pennsylvania conservation studio studied the building in the fall of 2013, and its forthcoming report will be used to help raise funds towards the church’s long-term stabilization and rehabilitation. While church buildings across the region are being lost at an alarming rate, Nineteenth Street Baptist illustrates the importance of a dedicated congregation in engaging the support of a broader preservation community to protect both an architectural landmark and a neighborhood anchor.