Trinity Church, Oxford has been nominated for historical preservation as Royal Farms eyes the property.
State Rep. Jared Solomon (D-202nd dist.) and the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia are trying to preserve buildings at 6901 Rising Sun Ave., site of the former Gibbons Police Athletic League center, day care and of a proposed Royal Farms store.
Solomon and Preservation Alliance president Paul Steinke held a news conference last week at Rising Sun and Longshore avenues, outside Trinity Church, Oxford, which owns the property, to announce the submission of a nomination to the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
“No to Royal Farms,” Solomon said.
As of Aug. 7, the buildings are under the jurisdiction of the historical commission. Thus, Royal Farms cannot seek permits for demolition.
“This is step one,” Solomon said.
An initial hearing will take place on Sept. 13 to consider the nomination and whether it should be listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
The auditorium, gym, small classroom and office were built in 1928, with a large classroom added in 1963. Supporters of historic designation argue that they were built in the Colonial Revival architectural style of the 1920s, around the time the nation was celebrating its 150th birthday.
Solomon said he favors development, as long as it respects the interests, character and history of the community. Razing buildings to put in Royal Farms, which sells food and gasoline, would lead to less green space and is not the “right type of development,” he said.
Steinke, who grew up in Burholme, pointed across the street to a Wawa and called it a “mirror image” of Royal Farms.
There’s also a Sunoco at Rising Sun and Longshore.
Among those attending the news conference were Lawncrest Community Association president Bill Dolbow and former state Rep. Mark Cohen, who is a candidate for Common Pleas Court judge.
Dolbow will soon hold a meeting to see what the immediate neighbors of the Rising Sun and Longshore area think about the proposed Royal Farms and the historical nomination.
“We are 100 percent for the neighbors,” he said.
Sean Tobin, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, was in attendance.
Boyle later released a statement that read, “I stand alongside those opposing the demolition of the property that includes Trinity Church, Oxford on 6901 Rising Sun Ave., a Philadelphia location that dates back to the year 1698. This unique property has an historical significance that should be preserved, not eliminated by a wrecking ball. My staff and I are working closely with neighbors and opposition groups. I will assist when and where we can to aid in any federal tax credits that would assist in preserving this irreplaceable historical property.”
Trinity Church, Oxford officials have said the more than 300-year-old Episcopal parish needs a long-term tenant such as Royal Farms because building maintenance costs are too high. The rents paid by longtime tenants PAL and the Oxford Child Care Center, which both moved out in 2015, were not enough to pay for the property’s upkeep.
On Aug. 9, the day of the news conference, Trinity Church, Oxford tagged Solomon in a Facebook post, writing, “The reality is we cannot afford the couple of million dollars it would cost to repair the building and bring it up to code. We also sought historic designation funding to save it. In preliminary studies, it was found that there is no historical significance to 6901 Rising Sun building. For the past 5 years, we have been seeking a partner who will respect the needs of the community at large. We have explored many options and Royal Farms has presented the best offer. This project will not only provide local jobs and tax dollars to the neighborhood, it also provides Trinity Church, Oxford with the long-term income to protect the parish, which has existed since 1698. Royal Farms has already shown they’re receptive to suggestions from the community. The proposed structure allows for the athletic field to remain between Royal Farms and the cemetery. Green space remains and additional greenery will be added to the developed land. This redevelopment project only affects a part of the overall property. If this project does not come to fruition, Trinity Church, Oxford will be closed within two years. That means a chain link fence with barbed wire on top around the entire property to secure it.”
The Rev. Richard Robyn, the former pastor who recently left for an assignment in New York state, told Solomon on Facebook to “do your homework.”
Robyn noted that the church (built in 1711) and cemetery are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, adding, “On the other hand, the cinder block gym on the corner has no historic or architectural significance. The community and you seem rather misguided. Trinity has reached out to them and gotten nothing but negativity. Based on all our interactions and conversations I’m shocked and disappointed that you would take advantage of my departure to pander to a small and willfully uninformed crowd. This is government overreach at its worst.” ••