To some people, preserving the Art Deco treasures of West Philadelphia’s Convention Hall was a near-religious calling. So perhaps it’s fitting that during the building’s recent demolition, one of the “architectural salvage” crews — one that ended up with possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goodies — was part of a religious cult. Olde Good Things, the company that won the right to dismantle the building’s exterior and keep salvageable materials, is actually a moneymaking arm of the Church of Bible Understanding, a religious cult Philly Mag exposed in an award-winning investigation (“I’ll Be Damned,” June 1999).
The group, whose compound occupies a square block of Southwest Philly, began in the ’70s and was parodied on Seinfeld as the “carpet cleaning cult.” But in the past decade, it discovered there’s far more money to be made in the current lust for home improvement. Nearly overnight, Olde Good Things has become a $4 million architectural salvage firm — owing, former members say, to its employees’ willingness to work long hours for little pay.
The University of Pennsylvania, which owns the Convention Hall site, claims it had no clue that Olde Good Things was affiliated with a cult. Mazzocchi Wrecking, which brought Olde Good Things into the deal in the first place, expressed surprise as well. “I know they do missionary-type work,” says president Grace Mazzocchi. “I’m not aware they’re a cult.” (Though Kevin Browne of Olde Good Things refused comment, a mysterious caller who said he was phoning on Browne’s behalf said, “Olde Good Things is a business. What they do on the side is their own business, just like what you do on the side is your own business.”) Competitors estimate that the Conventional Hall take could run well into six figures. The stuff is already selling briskly, judging from Olde Good Things’ busy booth at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where a mirror made from the copper roofing went for $500.