Siloam owned the old Church of the Assumption for about six years before selling it to developers John Wei and Mika He in July 2012.
The city wants the dilapidated structure demolished, citing its “unsafe” condition.
But the Callowhill Neighborhood Association wants the church preserved as an important part of the city’s architectural heritage.
During the Oct. 10 hearing, Commonwealth Court Judges P. Kevin Brobson, Rochelle S. Friedman and Patricia A. McCullough expressed a desire for more information about the church’s current owners.
“We don’t even know how much [Wei and He] paid for the building,” Brobson noted.
Brobson questioned why Wei and He aren’t litigants in the dispute.
“How can we decide something when we don’t have all the parties?” he posed.
But city attorney Andrew S. Ross said Wei and He don’t have to be litigants, because church owners should have the right to demolish it.
“It would be unconstitutional to make someone spend an infinite amount of money to preserve [the church],” Ross said.
Friedman appeared sympathetic to that viewpoint, noting that estimates range upward of $6 million to rehab the structure. She also expressed concern that the church’s two tall spires may topple.
But Samuel C. Stretton, an attorney for CNA, said the church and its spires could be stabilized for about $150,000.
The Gothic-style church is located at 1123 Spring Garden St., and has ties to two local saints, Katharine Drexel and John Neumann.
Stretton emphasized that the church remains on the city’s historic register, even though its interior has been gutted.
McCullough said demolition of the church isn’t inevitable, noting “there are many properties like this one that have been purchased and put to an entirely different use.”
Brobson stopped short of saying it’s feasible to preserve the church, but he questioned the procedure that resulted in a demolition permit.
He called the church a “gorgeous, well-known structure” and said more facts are needed about the owners’ plans.
“I can’t assume the only reason [Wei and He] purchased it was to demolish it,” Brobson said.
In October 2012, a lower court granted Siloam the right to demolish the church, but it’s unclear if that right extends to the current owners, Brobson said, adding it may be helpful to remand the matter to the lower court for clarification.
Stretton said he wouldn’t object to that, as long as the church isn’t demolished during the process.
In July 2009, the church was cited as “unsafe” by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections due to loose, fractured and deteriorating walls and roof. The safety violations haven’t been remedied, according to city records.
After the hearing, L&I spokesperson Rebecca C. Swanson said the church isn’t in danger of “imminent” collapse.
If demolition is blocked by the courts, the current owners “would still be required to correct the outstanding L&I violations,” Swanson added.
Siloam continues to operate in an old Catholic rectory adjacent to the church.
Wei and He had no comment for this story.
A decision by the judges is expected in the next few months.