Trinity Church, Oxford ruled historic

The church’s lease with Royal Farms would seem to be dead now that the buildings will remain.

The Philadelphia Historical Commission voted unanimously last Friday to add Trinity Church, Oxford’s Parish House to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

The property, at 6901 Rising Sun Ave. (at Longshore Avenue) in Lawndale, consists of an auditorium, gym, office and two classrooms.

In September, the commission’s Committee on Historical Designation voted 5–0 to recommend the listing. The full commission vote was 9–0.

Trinity Church, Oxford can appeal to the commission, citing a financial hardship, or to Common Pleas Court. But those appeals would be costly.

Leading the effort for historical designation were state Rep. Jared Solomon and his chief of staff, Andy Dalzell; the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia; and residents such as Heather Miller, Mark and Mona Cohen, Matt Jackson, Joseph Bozzelli, Roxanna Schroeder and Susan Feltwell.

They successfully preserve buildings that were the home of a day care and the former Gibbons Police Athletic League center, but have been vacant for two years.

Trinity Church, Oxford had signed a lease with Royal Farms, a large convenience store that sells food and gasoline, but that deal would seem to be dead now that the buildings will remain.

The auditorium, gym, small classroom and office were built in 1928, with a large classroom added in 1963.

Trinity Church, Oxford officials have said the more than 300-year-old Episcopal parish needs a long-term tenant 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 a monthly heating bill, let alone all of the property’s upkeep.

The parish was formed in 1698. The church was built in 1711, making it the second oldest in the city. The church and adjoining cemetery are already on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

Trinity Church, Oxford argued unsuccessfully that there is no historical or architectural significance to the other building. The Historical Society of Frankford also opposed historical designation.

Officials say the church will close in two years without a tenant willing to pay high rent, such as Royal Farms.

“Now the real work begins. I relish the opportunity,” Solomon said.

Solomon, who joined the Preservation Alliance in nominating the property for historical designation to prevent its demolition, will set up a meeting with church officials to discuss available tax benefits and incentives. He will also tell them that he’s been contacted by two charter schools and two senior living facilities, all with interest in seeing the site.

“There are real alternatives right now,” Solomon said. “These are all doable. The potential is great. It’s almost perfectly designed as a school.”

Now that the commission has ruled, Solomon expects more interest from potential tenants.

In a “Dear Friends” post on Facebook, the church wrote, “Today, leaders of Trinity and the Diocese went before the Philadelphia Historic Commission to oppose the designation of our Parish House, as designation would prevent the redevelopment efforts of the last 7 years and ultimately lead to the closure of our beloved spiritual home. While Trinity’s position was very well represented to the Commission, it is with a heavy heart that I share with you that the Commission granted the designation. We will continue to have faith in God and share the Good News of God’s Love. Please continue to keep Trinity and each other in your prayers as we discern our future.”

Mark Cohen, a former state representative who was elected last week as a Common Pleas Court judge, is optimistic the church will find a tenant.

“They never put it on the open market. I think there is a lot of potential interest in the place,” he said.

Mona Cohen, his wife, said the commission acted correctly.

“We really did have a good coalition,” she said. “I’m happy. I hope the church entertains other offers.”

Jackson said neighbors want to help, not hurt, the church.

“I’m please. Hopefully, the church will now want to come to the table,” he said. ••