An architectural antiques dealer owned by a controversial church has been tasked with salvaging several of the decorative items that adorned the former West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center at the corner of 63rd and Ludlow Streets, which is in the process of being demolished.
A Jewish Exponent article earlier this month reporting the destruction of the building sparked an outpouring of interest and concern over the fate of the building’s Jewish architectural components.
The center serviced a large Jewish population based in West Philadelphia between 1927 and 1960 before merging with a suburban synagogue that eventually became Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood. City of Conquerors Church, an offshoot of We Are More Than Conquerors Ministries, were the last tenants of the building, operating between 2003 and 2010.
The Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation purchased the property in 2010, and referred the Exponent to antiques dealer Olde Good Things when asked what would happen to the Jewish art that had been part of the facade.
Olde Good Things, which resells architectural items from demolished sites, has showrooms in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. It stores many larger objects at its national warehouse in Scranton, Pa.
Kevin Browne, president of Olde Good Things, said the company would attempt to salvage many of the building’s Judaic decorations, including the three arches above the front entrance that depict the Ten Commandments, a menorah and a star of David. “Anything of architectural significance that will be of value we save,” he said.
He added that the difficult process of removing and transporting items from the building must be done delicately to ensure that they “don’t get chipped or damaged.”
According to demolition workers on the site, a recovery team was scheduled to begin removing pieces this week.
Olde Good Things is owned by the Scranton-based Church of Bible Understanding, which is headed by Stewart Traill. The church became the focus of a negative media storm in 2013 after the government of Haiti slammed conditions at an orphanage there that was run by the church. On Feb. 4, 2014, the Associated Press reported that conditions, while improving since the accusations, were still inadequate. Among the complaints were assertions of overcrowding and a lack of nutritious meals. No one at the church could immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, news of the former JCC's demolition spurred memories from several locals who were part of the West Philadelphia Jewish community before it fell apart in the 1960s.
“The clientele of the center were not Orthodox but valued tradition,” Saul Wachs, director of the doctoral program at Gratz College, wrote in a letter to the Exponent.
“Much of my thinking and the values I espouse can be directly traced” to the center’s cantor and rabbi and “the warm rich ethos of Jewish tradition that suffused the world of the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center.”