The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 10—A dramatic two-alarm fire destroyed the vacant St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacony on Sunday, gutting the historic stone structure that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed in 2013.
Flames and dark smoke billowed from the windows of the 19th-century building at the corner of Keystone Street and Unruh Avenue, causing traffic on nearby I-95 to slow to a crawl from gawkers. After more than an hour, the church’s roof collapsed, leaving only the stone outside walls remaining.
“Yeah, it’s bad,” said Pasqual Mota, who lives in the former rectory adjacent to the church. He said the fire also damaged his building, which he bought from the archdiocese in 2016. With the church lost, firefighters aimed their hoses at the rectory.
The Philadelphia Fire Department said it dispatched about 100 firefighters and 45 pieces of equipment to the scene at about 5:15 p.m., and declared the fire under control about 7 pm. Fire officials said a cause was under investigation, and reported no injuries.
The church, named for Pope Leo I, was built between 1885 and 1895, according to the Library of Congress. The archdiocese closed St. Leo’s as part of a consolidation in 2013, when 24 parishes were merged into 10.
St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church is listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places after the Tacony Community Development Corporation and the neighborhood’s historical society sought the listing, according to the Northeast Times. The archdiocese expressed concern about the historic designation, saying it complicated a potential sale of the property.
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