Former St. Bonaventure Catholic Church Now Dangerous Eyesore

Former St. Bonaventure Catholic Church Now Dangerous Eyesore

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Neighbors of the former St. Bonaventure Catholic church near 9th and Cambria say the building is becoming a dangerous eyesore. Neighbors of the former St. Bonaventure Catholic church near 9th and Cambria say the building is becoming a dangerous eyesore.
A shingle from the roof of the church is seen on the sidewalk. People who live in the area say the wind blows the shingles off of the roof. A shingle from the roof of the church is seen on the sidewalk. People who live in the area say the wind blows the shingles off of the roof.
NORTH PHILADELPHIA -

For a century, it was a religious centerpiece of Philadelphia's Fairhill neighborhood.

But now, the former St. Bonaventure Catholic church near 9th and Cambria is literally endangering lives.

Gaze skyward at the crumbling steeple of St. Bonaventure and you'll notice a family of Peregrine falcons.

But don't linger on the sidewalk below.

That's Ground Zero for the razor-sharp slate roofing shingles that fall from the spire when the winds blow.

Elizabeth Gutierrez lives just around the corner from the church, and remembers the late October night when Superstorm Sandy rumbled through the neighborhood.

"And my daughter sleeps in the back and the only thing she heard was, 'pop! pop! pop!' She said, 'mom, something's wrong!' (It was) slates coming down."

She says she called Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections to complain about the danger.

The city posted a sign, calling the structure "imminently dangerous," and ordering the owner- the New Life Evangelistic Church- to remove the steeple immediately.

That was November 3rd.

"So it says something there," says Gutierrez, as she peers at the sign with FOX 29s Bruce Gordon, "(but) there's nothing done."

St. Bonaventure was built in 1894, and served the community until dwindling attendance forced the Philadelphia Archdiocese to close its doors in 1993.

The city says New Life Evangelistic bought the place shortly thereafter, but the building has been vacant for years.

The women's halfway house right next door to St. Bonaventure has a bird's eye view of the damage done by scavengers.

The church has been stripped of copper, stained glass- anything of value.

And the lawn here is littered with fallen slate.

Rev. Mildred Kee surveys the mess and tells Gordon the church has been an eyesore for years

About two years ago, she says "the crack heads went in and ripped out all the water pipes, so the water came over in my building and I had a foot of water in my basement."

Gordon called Licenses and Inspections to report the neighbors' concerns.

A spokeswoman acknowledged the posted sign is misleading- that the city considers the church building "unsafe," but not yet "imminently dangerous."

Gordon's phone call to New Life was not returned by Thursday afternoon, but L & I got back to him and said his report had prompted them to re-inspected the structure.

L & I agreed, the building has deteriorated, and the city will now take the owner- New Life- to Equity court, where it can force repairs or demolition.

That's the good news.

The bad?

The legal process could take months to play out.

In the meantime, folks in the neighborhood around St. Bonaventure would be well advised to steer clear of the crumbling steeple.

"If that does come down," says Gutierrez, "somebody's going to die."

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