Status: Worship Site, Roman Catholic
Front & Allen Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Original visit: September 21, 2008
Where Is It?
Front & Allen Streets, which puts it under I-95 in Northern Liberties. No, seriously.
As you might have guessed, the Project gets a decent amount of e-mail. Most of it consists of glowing comments about my genius, although there are the occasional malcontents who feel I’ve been too harsh on their beloved parish. (At least no one has called me unmentionable names. Whatever faults religious people might have, courtesy isn’t usually one of them.)
A lot of times, though, people suggest parishes that absolutely require my immediate attention. One such parish is Northern Liberties’ Immaculate Conception. Not to be confused with Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Conception BVM, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Ukranian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and a shrine that used to be known as the Public Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
Oh yes, the Immaculate Inception at work.
This, the final piece of the Immaculate puzzle, is notable because it’s sort of a casualty of the lovely little road known as I-95. The Project once noted that St. Adalbert was prominent because it sat right off the west side of I-95. That’s still true, albeit by several blocks.
But if you thought Adalbert was close, hold on to your pews. Immaculate Conception is so close that it is literally, seriously right next to and under I-95 (and the Market-Frankford El, as well). You could stand on the side of the road and spit on the church.
Certainly this wasn’t the plan when they built the church, as evidenced by this lovely historic artist’s rendering, circa 1901:
Nice, eh? If only they had known that their descendents would eventually build a highway on top of the thing, they might have done things a little differently.
As it stands, this Immaculate is probably the least impressive of the bunch. That’s not as much of an insult as it sounds, but it’s just up against some really impressive competition. There’s some good stuff here; the red-brick and white-trim exterior is very lovely, and inside, the Italian-Renaissance décor is smart and colorful, if not particularly overwhelming.
The stained-glass windows, main altar and ceramic-colored organ are the highlights here. The paintwork, including the murals, doesn’t particularly excite, but at least they had the good sense to make the base color cream instead of white.
Look for it: The funky ceiling rafters, which are truly unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Don't bother looking for it: The cute little spire that appears in the artist’s rendering; it was never installed.
Oh, and the church has oddly curved sides, instead of the typical boxy shape of most Italian-Renaissance. Again, kind of unique.
But it’s tasteful and nice in its own understated way. It doesn’t punch you in the mouth, but it wins your affections nonetheless.
After being virtually bludgeoned out of existence by I-95 and the El, Immaculate limped along for decades until a 2011 closure put it out of its misery.
But don't worry! The building, which was twinned with St. Michael forever ago, will still live on as a worship site for the parish. So really, nothing is, uh, changing. Not even the name. Not even the people who pay the bills. Not even...
Ah, forget it. Point is, it's all a formality. Immaculate's still in use, and that's what's important.
Northern Liberties is incredibly easy to get to via I-95, and the area’s recent renaissance has made it pretty carefree to traverse. (The rebirth didn't help this parish, but that’s another matter.)
The church supposedly has a lot (although I somehow missed it), but you may still need to street park. The Project actually ended up parked under I-95 itself, which was, I won’t lie, a little unnerving. Still, I take what I can get.
You know what makes mass great? Having the El zoom by and rattle the windows every 10-15 minutes or so. Yeah!
The Final Word
Not as awe-inspiring as some people make it out to be, but not a bad trip.