Revealed: Secret Beauty of the Ruffin Nichols AME Church

A large number of Philadelphia’s old churches get demolished, some with great fanfare, others with little remark. When the Ruffin Nichols Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and its school building went on the market for $899,900 in 2011, there was no Church of the Assumption-style outcry. But as the demolition has proceeded (rather slowly, it should be said), passers-by and urban-ruin fanatics have gasped in wonder as they’ve seen the half-standing remains with its gorgeous fresco.

The two buildings at 11th and Mt. Vernon (about 8,000 square feet) and 11th and Lemon (about 15,000 square feet) were built in 1844 by Napolean LeBrun. Before demolition began, the buildings were featured on the National Geographic show Abandoned, in which the stars went in and discovered all kinds of old “relics,” including an old bowling alley in a basement (see video here). “This is a place where the whole community came together,” one of them says.

Photos by Liz Spikol

Some of the relics are still up for sale on ebay, including some very odd overhead bowling lights patented in 1898 by Gustave Burkhardt of Chicago, Illinois. According to the ebay site maintained by the Abandoned skulkers, “they were hung over the pin deck to illuminate the alley and also worked as pin indicators. These lights were originally gas lights which we converted to electric.” Cost? $2,500 each.

As a timely note about the building: When it went on sale, Rust Real Estate noted something that we now know, because of AVI, is almost certainly true: “BRT & City Office of Property Assessor’ records appear to be incorrect regarding the size of Church Building.” Big surprise.