Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Church

Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Church. Image provided by Historical Society of Pennsylvania

754 South 3rd St.

An example of adaptive re–use that reflects the changes in the neighborhood, this building was originally a synagogue, then a dance hall, a union hall, and, finally, a church. Since the 1970s, the building has been home to Phillips Temple Christian Methodist Church, an African American denomination originating in the American South. Most of Phillips Temple's members can trace their family roots to the south as well—their parents or grandparents came from states like Georgia and the Carolinas early in the 20th century, and, bringing their food and culture with them, built a close-knit community along 3rd and 4th Streets between Bainbridge and Washington Avenue

The Jewish congregations housed here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were small and often formed around chevras—Hebrew for the fraternal societies or associations. Scores of these smaller synagogues proliferated around the Jewish enclaves of South Philadelphia to provide a place of prayer and community for poorer Jews and Jewish immigrants. The Neziner synagogue was moved here in 1895. In 1905, the Neziners moved to South 2nd Street, and Heartfellow Hall, as it was called, was sold to a Romanian congregation. The hall was enlarged to accommodate up to 400 worshippers, and woman's gallery was later added and remains there today. Current Phillips Temple pastor Reverend William Green notes that the building was originally constructed as a very functional, working-class synagogue for laborers and merchants and has undergone relatively little renovation despite its many incarnations

Although members of Phillips Temple have worshipped at 754 South 3rd Street only since the early 1970s, the congregation celebrated its 62nd anniversary in 2008. Speaking of the neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s, church member Margaret Jones remembers that "4th Street was like our 9th Street"—a bustling commercial strip with restaurants, and shops and vendors offering all manner of goods and services from bicycles to beauty parlors, tailor shops to funeral homes. Since the 1970s the neighborhood surrounding the church has experienced great change; most of the shops are gone, replaced by high-priced homes, condos, and restaurants. Many of the area's African American residents have dispersed throughout the city, but they still come together every week at Phillips Temple Christian Methodist for Sunday service followed by a home-cooked feast in the church's basement hall.