A page from a reproduced tile catalog of the Cambridge-Wheatley Company. (Keramic Tiles: Catalog "A" 1928, The Cambridge-Wheatley Company, Covington, KY and Cincinnati, OH, 1928, p. 88; reproduced in the 1990s by the Tile Heritage Foundation)


CHURCH OF THE TRANSFIGURATION--PHILADELPHIA, PA

LOST

General Description:

It is easier to describe the beauty of the tile work in the Church of the Transfiguration through the photos below, taken just prior to its destruction.

Materials Used/Technical Information (size, manufacturer, etc.):

Wheatley faience* and faience tiles were used for the angel sculptures and probably for the other ceramic sculptures throughout the church. Although there is no proof, the Cambridge-Wheatley Company might have also supplied the mosaic tiles in the church. [*Faience is usually distinguished from terra cotta, for instance, because terra cotta was produced in a single firing--the dry terra cotta clay was glazed and then fired--while faience products were fired first without glaze and then glazed and fired again, or more than two times.] 


Thomas J. Wheatley founded T.J. Wheatley and Company (1880-1882) and the Wheatley Pottery Company (with Isaac Kahn in 1903). Wheatley Pottery produced an arts and crafts style pottery. T.J. Wheatley worked in Cincinnati, OH, with founders of the art pottery movement, including M. Louise McLaughlin of Rookwood, and played a role in founding the Cincinnati Art Pottery in 1880. Wheatley's plant was destroyed by fire in 1910. However, Wheatley continued producing pottery until 1927 when the Cambridge Tile Manufacturing Company bought Wheatley Pottery.1

Year Created:


Year Installed, if different:

Between 1925 and 1928

Does Installation Still Exist?

No.

If Not, What Happened?

Matthew Christopher, a photographer-artist who documented the Church of the Transfiguration in its last days for his website, Abandoned America, eloquently wrote: "There are some places I photograph that I am indifferent to, others that I like for various reasons - but Transfiguration was one that I genuinely loved. The details in the craftsmanship were so exquisite, and it was sickening to think that it was just left there. ...As I mentioned to a friend plans to return a month or so later, he told me that they were abating it for demolition. I was horrified, but he was correct. With a terrible swiftness, they tore into the building. A local salvage company managed to get a few small trinkets out before it was torn down but the carvings, the limestone, the incredible tile work (which would fetch a good price, most likely) - were all summarily bulldozed and tossed in a landfill like trash. Even though a friend of mine who is a college president who has experience with (and can fund) architectural salvage on a larger scale wanted to save the pillars, the demolition teams ignored his calls. It was better, apparently, to destroy it than to do anything at all to acknowledge what had once been such an important part of so many lives. Pondering on the loss of landmark buildings and the cheapening of society with throwaway architecture that replaces it, the ruminations on the wasteful nature of our society come easily. Some people think it cliched and trite to mourn our current state. I would submit that such people are a large part of the problem. The loss is very real. If you see a place like this, and really feel it in your heart and know what it means to so many, there can be no other reaction but grief when it is lost."2


"The lower church was built for the parishioners in 1925 and the upper church was finished in 1928. Capable of seating over 2,500 people, it was one of the biggest and most magnificent churches in philadelphia, but by the 1970s demographics had shifted in the urban center around it and it was eventually closed in 2000. 

After its closing it was purchased by conman Raffaello Follieri, a con artist who was supposedly going to use inside connections to buy churches from the Vatican for low prices and rehabilitate them into community centers. Instead, he lived a lavish lifestyle... . He had no inside connections and lost bids on all other churches he tried to purchase, save for three (Transfiguration being one of them) which sat abandoned for roughly a decade. When it was resold after Follieri's imprisonment the buyers (The Boys' Latin of Philadelphia Charter School) only wanted the school and very quickly demolished the church and rectory before any opposition could be mounted from the community in 2009. It is currently an empty lot and the majority of the building was dumped in a landfill."3 


"The interior furnishings of the church were stripped last month [October 2009] and can be found at Provenance, the architectural salvage store on 1610 Fairmount Ave."4


In November 2009 another observer from the Philadelphia Church Project reported: "I went to the site of the Church of Transfiguration today (11/8/09), with my camera, to see what progress has been made. Needless to say, it is a most depressive site. Demolition has commenced and is moving "full speed ahead." The front of the Church is almost completely destroyed. The middle section of the Church looks almost like it is completely gone. You are able to peer inside the building from street level (on Cedar Street). It looks like most of the mosaic tile is still in the building, as well as other adornments. You can see the complete mosaic Crucifixion scene above the main altar; it appears it will come down in rubble. This is the scene you posted on your blogspot. I have been talking to people close to the project & they inform me that the mosaic is too difficult and time consuming to save (although very few fragments have been saved). What an utter disgrace to allow priceless materials in this Church to be reduced to rubble."5 (A photo essay of the church under the wrecking ball is at this website.)

Location of Installation:

56th and Cedar Streets, Philadelphia

Additional Information, Websites, Citations:

1http://www.woodennickelantiques.net/Arch_Salvage.html

2http://www.abandonedamerica.us/mysterium-fascinans

3http://www.abandonedamerica.us/portfolio158466.html

4http://kourelis.blogspot.com/2009/11/west-philadelphia-transfiguration.html

5http://phillychurchproject.blogspot.com/2009/11/end-has-come.html

Submitted by and Year:

Submitted by Michael Padwee (tileback101'at'collector.org) in November 2012, with a lot of help from Matthew Christopher. I highly recommend his Abandoned America website, and also his photography website.


(Color photos courtesy of Matthew Christopher and his website, Abandoned America; black and white photos were taken from scans of a 1955 historical booklet given to Matthew Christopher by the Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center)