Third Presbyterian Church of Chester was burned down Thursday destroying one of the most impressive architectural treasures in our city. 

According to the Delaware County Times, the church, which opened on May 17, 1896, was in service for 90 years before closing its doors in 1986. It was later the home to Chester Eastside Ministries until 2013, when the building was deemed structurally unsound and shuttered. OldChesterPA.com says the church was organized Oct. 16, 1872.

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The church had been scheduled for demolition, but the Chester Historical Preservation Committee was able to save it in 2014 and purchased the property for $1. Dave Guleke, president of the Chester Historical Preservation Committee, owns the property.

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Guleke said members have been working to restore the building ever since, putting in their own time and effort to make repairs, remove debris and restore the interior. Fundraising has been put on hold in the midst of the coronavirus, but the CHPC had spent thousands of dollars renovating the space.

The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2019 with the help of Partners for Sacred Places who had been working to turn the sanctuary into a performing arts theater.

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He said, “It could sort of be like a mini-Kimmel (Center) kind of thing where you can do things and improve the neighborhood, improve the city and improve the greater good for the whole county.”

My only time in the church was about a dozen years ago when a youth group from Africa performed a concert in the rotunda. My first impression of the space was amazement. As I remember, it wasn’t laid out like any church I’d ever been in. The main sanctuary was in the round without traditional pews and had a balcony. The woodwork was exquisite. 

When the choir performed, it was obvious whoever designed the space had acoustics in mind. The un-mic’d sound from the choir reverberated and filled the space perfectly. I totally understand Guleke’s comparison to  Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall which is built will an all mahogany wood interior and is an amazing place to hear a concert. 

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Dave Guleke on the steps

When I stopped by Saturday morning to witness the destruction, there were so many others stopping to look, take photos, and talk with Guleke who was on site to great strangers like me and the folks who traveled in from out of town who were former members. I overheard one guy share how he spent his entire childhood in that church. 

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If there’s any glimmer of solace it’s that the church wasn’t serving an active congregation. However, to see such a beautiful building abandoned for so long with only Guleke’s small group of faithfuls trying to bring it back is just as sad as seeing it totally razed with nothing to reclaim but memories and hopes of what could have been. 

 

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