Preface. St. Laurentius (aka St. Lawrence) was metal as hell. He was martyred on a gridiron by the prefect of Rome for distributing alms to the poor. Whilst burning, supposedly said “Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough”. He is the patron saint of comedians. I *like* this guy. Now, to begin.
I am a Satanist. Not in the goat worshipping, blood-drinking sense, but in the “we actually believe in the separation of church and state and will fight to vindicate the rights of the oppressed and use the laws written by right-wing zealots against them” sense. Watch “Hail Satan?” to get a sense of what I mean. It is a good film.
For those who may think that I am joking, I am not. Here is my membership certificate.
To the pierogi and kielbasa: there is a church in Fishtown that was built by Polish immigrants called St. Laurentius. It is gorgeous. It is in imminent danger of collapse and I wish it weren’t. Here the story (as I understand it from a combination of personal knowledge, rumor, and neighborhood gossip). It may not be 100% accurate, but after all, truth is subjective.
Several years ago, due to waiting attendance, the Philadelphia Archdiocese deconsecrated the church. The church has serious structural issues. They put it under agreement to a developer for $1.00. This developer was going to preserve the Church building and convert it into apartments. It was a really cool idea.
But like any good idea, there are some chuckleheads who don’t like it. Some Fishbillies fought the development all the way to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. Their main complaints seemed to be 1) it needed to stay a holy place (I wonder how many of them attended the Church or tithed, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion); and 2) bUt wHaT aBouT mY pArkIng!!!?!? (to this I say, get bent, we live in a city, this Church is a 10 minute walk to the Market Frankford El, and less than 5 minutes from several bus and trolley lines).
The developer won their zoning hearing on November 25, 2016 (as they should have). Then the Fishbillies, now calling themselves “The Faithful Laurentians” (again, I wonder how many attended the Church weekly and tithed to support the church, and again, irrelevant to this discussion), filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas on December 5, 2016.
Their lawyer was either lazy or incompetent (I will give the benefit of the doubt and suggest lazy) and, to put it in strict legal terms, fucked up a lot. Judge Dan Anders, who is brilliant and an amazing human being (and now edits the famed Olbaum on the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence), quashed the appeal. I consider Dan Anders a friend. I appeared in front of him routinely when I was a baby lawyer and he was a baby judge handling matters in the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal division. He scared me because he is the type of judge you cannot bullshit or tap dance around to distract them from your shitty legal argument because he is the smartest person in the room and knows the law.
(Sidebar: he does not act like a know-it-all. He is very compassionate on the bench and has an excellent judicial temperament. I do not get special dispensation from him because I know him, and in fact, he is probably harder on me because he knows me outside of the Courtroom).
He made the correct decision in YEETing the appeal, which he ordered on August 29, 2017, almost a year after the Fishbillies filed their appeal.
But as so often happens, instead of issuing a mea culpa, the Fishbillies doubled down on the idiocy, and filed another appeal to the Commonwealth Court on October 2, 2017 (note: the Commonwealth Court is Pennsylvania’s intermediate appellate court that deals with administrative agencies like the Zoning Board of Adjustment). This was stupid.
In any case, the Fishbillies lost again on August 29, 2018, when the Commonwealth Court affirmed Judge Anders’s order YEETing them into the sun. Whether they ran out of money or steam, I don’t know. I also don’t care. Note at this point it is TWO YEARS after the initial zoning win.
But it was a pyrrhic victory, as by then, the damage had been done, and the deal to preserve the church via adaptive reuse was dead. Fuck you very much, Fishbillies.
In January 2020, hope was rekindled when a new developer expressed interest (this article may have a paywall; use Incognito mode and you should be able to open it). At this point, though, the Church was literally in danger of collapse. Pieces of stone weighing hundreds of pounds fell from the façade of the spires, leading to the street being closed down and fenced off. There is an elementary school next door. This is dangerous shit.
Blah blah blah the Church is in real bad shape and the City basically says “hey guys, this is REALLY DANGEROUS and we have to take it down now before someone dies via a 500lb rock to the head falling from 60 feet”.
Enter perennial thorn-in-the-side of developers Oscar Beisert (this article makes him seem like a hero. I do not think he is a hero. I think he is annoying). Oscar seems to have more time that sense and moved here from Texas a few years ago, started his own “foundation” and goes around nominating any old building for historic preservation once someone pulls permits for it. I guess he thinks himself a maverick. I have read his Historic Preservation submissions. He makes Melville seem concise. He means well, but his efforts are Sisyphean, at best and dumb at worst (again, I am giving Oscar the benefit of the doubt because I do not know him other than telling him he is annoying on Facebook and sending him mean gifs. I do not think he likes me. I also don’t care). I feel comfortable saying all of these things because I have spent many hours in public service with our local community groups, both at community clean-ups and running my civic’s Zoning Committee (Olde Richmond Civic Association at the time) for several years, until I stepped down because I was getting many local zoning projects and I did not want there to be any appearance of impropriety whereby anyone could impugn the integrity of the volunteer community organizations. I tried to serve on the Fishtown Neighbors Association Zoning Committee as well but this made some board members feel uncomfortable (since I represent developers in Fishtown and its environs), so I resigned. Again, the perceived integrity of the organization is more important than my ego.
Back to Oscar: I tried to find his nomination petition for St. Laurentius but after spending 10 minutes looking I stopped. I am sure it is out there but I have run out of patience looking for it. Read a summary here.
(Note: I also know the attorney who was contesting the Historic Nomination. I have written him funny emails about some of his client’s projects, most recently nicknaming one of his client’s projects “Club 69” [nice]. I fought him at the Zoning Board when he was representing Starbucks and they wanted to put one on Frankford Avenue. I pulled a few stunts that one can only learn from criminal trial work. He did not get angry with me. He is a good guy and far more patient with my shenanigans than I deserve. Fun fact: did you know that I worked at Starbucks during law school? I would get up at 4am, work from 5am-9am, then head to class. I quit because I kept falling asleep during class. I was very tired. Don’t work during law school, kids, if you can help it).
In any case, there’s now an ongoing battle about whether the spires will be torn down because they’re imminently dangerous. Some experts say they are. Others say they are not. This is how the law works.
That was a very long journey to get to this point: I love this building and I want it to stay. So I made a dumb art print to raise money to donate it to whomever to try to do something about it. Please buy one or 100. Each print sold will net about $25 for this fund. I am making no money off of this. Tell your friends. Buy one for your friends. Buy one as use it as a firestarter. Whatever, I don’t care so long as I have your money to donate.
Edit: Dec 28, 2020 after I made a lot of white people on Facebook MAD.
[I plan to split all proceeds from the sale of any poster 50/50. Exactly where they go is uncertain as of this moment but am trying to figure this out. Yes this is half-baked but I hope it will be fully-baked soon. Explanation below.
I am in talks with Fishtown Neighbors Association now. I have an intense dislike for the Catholic Church as an institution and do not wish to give a dime to the archdiocese, so funds may go to benefit the kids at the school somehow. This is evolving.
In addition, to those who bring up the history and weight of the words I chose: heard. I have reached out to my colleague at Avenging the Ancestors Coalition to see if they have any recommendation how any funds might best be handled. This is also evolving, and I care to hear more from black/brown voices about it. I would especially welcome input from local black-owned businesses (Harriet’s, Amalgam, Franny Lou’s). Paging @FishtownFamiliesAgainstRacism. I understand talking about race can be exhausting, and I want to do my own work and research. (For Yt folks who are commenting, you are also heard, and I believe you mean well. That said, I wish to hear from brown/black voices about these infamous words from the MOVE bombing combined with this image.
I feel that well-meaning yt people too often talk over, when they should be listening to, our black and brown neighbors who have their own voices. I saw and heard of this happening during the anti-racism demonstrations at the 26th and through the neighborhood. I feel this a time for yt people to stop talking and listen to our black/brown neighbors.My door is open to continuing discussion. I am listening to the voices of neighbors here in Fishtown, and in the wider black community. My goal here is to make a statement, sure, and to raise money for good causes.
I am not making a cent from the sale of any of these posters. I will be donating every penny. I understand that to some, the combination of the image and words is upsetting. It is undoubtedly a gross juxtaposition.
The comments I am reading below mean that I stuck a nerve. That was my intent, and I wanted to make people think not just about the history of the building, but also the oft-ignored MOVE incident. Those who are coming at me with “edgelord” comments: You are heard. This is a shocking image/word combination.]
Here’s my Facebook post with background on the issue. This is a full-on copypasta.
WARNING — THIS IS LONG. EVERYONE WHO CARES ABOUT FISHTOWN HISTORY: I am selling a print to get money to whatever organization is raising funds to save St. Laurentius.
If there is not a non-profit org already, I will donate all proceeds to Fishtown Neighbors Association or Fishtown Co.
Background: if you don’t know anything about Norwegian black metal, they’re famous for burning churches (watch “Lords of Chaos” for a pretty accurate account how things went down in late 80s/early 90s Norway, minus the girlfriend side story).I love black metal. It probably sounds like noise to most people but I have been into it for 20 years.
Black metal cover art aesthetic is generally some dumb gothic font and silly low-res black and white photos or maybe some idiots in makeup and spikes carrying battle axes (see, e.g., http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/…/top-10-most…/).
I also love the St Laurentius church building, and it’s an important part of our neighborhood’s history. I’ve been here about 15 years, but my grandfather worked in the Holtz building back when it was still H.W. Butterworth & Sons back in the 30s-40s. I have his apprenticeship certificate framed in my office, which is in the same building where he worked almost 100 years ago.
Regarding the text (in addition to the whole black metal church burning thing) my great-uncle (Terrance Mulvihill) was one of the cops who beat Delbert Africa in the MOVE saga. He was prosecuted and (unjustly, IMO) acquitted.
I went to Uncle Terry’s house a lot as a kid before he shot himself in the head with his police-issued Glock. My family doesn’t like me to talk about it, but I think it’s important I do (watch “Let the Fire Burn” and you’ll see him featured prominently).
If you recall, the police commissioner, after authorizing a bombing of its own citizens which turned into a raging conflagration that burned and asphyxiated innocent people, said: “LET THE FIRE BURN”.
In any case, while walking home from True Hand Society the other night, I snapped a photo of St. L with the moon peeking from behind its eastern spire, and felt inspired.
I want this church to stay.
Please help me raise money to help it stay.
And to the “Faithful Laurentians”, you are solely responsible for what’s happening to the church now, and each of you should buy 6 of them and say 666 hail marys for the damage you’ve caused to this amazing building. St. Leon calls that penance for your sin of pride. FYI: I’m confirmed (Malachy is my confirmation name) so don’t try play the Catholic guilt card on me. My mom’s been trying that for 36 years and I am inoculated.Please comment if you’re interested [edit: or just order one from the site].
I have already ordered 50 12×18″ prints from Fireball Printing, and I will continue to order as many as necessary to meet demand and raise money to help save the building.
TL;DR—I DON’T CARE IF YOU DON’T LIKE ME OR MY POLITICS OR MY ART (BUY ONE AND SET IT ON FIRE IF YOU WANT) OR MY ATHEISM THE BUILDING DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS AND WE NEED TO RALLY TO SAVE IT. Buy a print and help try to save the building.
One final note: the night that I took this photo, I was getting a tattoo of this very church, in flames, in tr00 kvlt Norwegian black metal style. My artist was shading and grabbed their bottle of soap to clean up my arm. I suddenly felt an intense burning and pain (being tattoOed isn’t comfortable to begin with, but this was another level, such that I gritted my teeth and groaned ::ffffffuucuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu::. Something was not right.
“OH NO, I ACCIDENTALLY GRABBED MY RUBBING ALCOHOL INSTEAD OF MY SOAP! I AM SOOOOO SORRY!” – my tattoo artist, who is very upset at this point and feels awful.
I am normally a trooper. After a short break I tried to start again, but my body was done. I had to call it quits.
I found it hilarious that I had an image of a burning church with interactive burning action. Maybe St Laurentius was mad at me? Who knows.
In any case, I had to walk by the St. Laurentius church building on the way home.
That’s when I got the idea for this image and snapped this photo.
Hell of a coincidence, right?