First Baptist Church was granted permission to relocate or demolish a circa 1950s Arts and Crafts style house in the historic district in order to construct a new day care center which members say they need to fulfill their Christian mission.

The Philadelphia Historic Preservation Commission voted 4-0 on Monday night to allow the church to demolish the structure in six months if the house can't be given away and relocated.

Two commission members, chairman Todd Mosley and Scott Tenhet, abstained from the discussion and vote. Mosley is a member of the church and Tenhet's wife was once employed by the day care.

Commission member Alice Rowe was not present.

Voting for the application were: Jeremy Chalmers, Jenny Lynn Wilkerson, Don Perry and Lynn Ferguson.

Chalmers, acting chairman of the commission, noted at the outset of the meeting that the body was a volunteer commission appointed by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Chalmers took great pains to explain the commission's role, saying they were charged primarily with determining if the structure was historic and, if so, whether the property is significant.

The meeting at the historic railroad depot was attended by about 50 people, most of them church members, many of whom stood and spoke in favor of the day care, some stating they believed it's the Lord's will for the facility be built to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most of the discussion during the more than hour-long meeting centered around the need for a day care and the congregation's struggle with finding a use for the house they felt met with the Lord's approval.

The church discontinued use of the house at 414 Pecan Ave., as a parsonage in 1999. It was built using clinker bricks that are rough and cracked. These types of bricks were once discarded, but after the 1900s became kind of a premium brick used by architects.

Many members who spoke cited their own personal Christian spiritual growth and experience in the church.

Church leaders and members also spoke of their personal struggle and emotional attachment to the house and their sincere desire to see it salvaged while making way for the day care, although many admitted finding a taker for the house appears grim.

The commission was told that special study groups within the church had spent a great deal of time prayerfully considering the proper course, citing statistical studies that addressed community needs for expanded child care.

The church already operates a licensed day care for 111 children and officials said they have 96 on a waiting list.

Many of those from the church who spoke acknowledged an appreciation for the commission and historic preservation, although they said they believed the Lord is leading them to build a day care instead of saving an historic property.

Child Ministries Chairman Brenda Nowell told the commission that the decision to remove the house was not an easy one.

"We the people of First Baptist Church love that house more than anybody. We love the people who lived there," she said.

The church's long-range strategic plan listed a new day care as its No. 1 priority.

The Rev. Dan Howard, pastor of the church, agreed that the structure was historic, but noted that the church could not find a purpose should it be preserved.

"We don't see it fitting into our ministry," he said. "We don't see it being a viable part of what we are doing."

The next step in the process would be for the church to present its final plans for the new day care center to the commission for approval before a demolition or relocation permit is granted.

The site, adjacent to the church campus, is zoned residential as is the church property, according to the City Building Official's Office.

City officials said the home site would not have to be re-zoned in order for the day care to be built.

The church would still have to seek state approval, however, for a day care to operate in the new facility.

Howard, in his opening remarks to the commission, stressed that church members were extremely interested in saving the house, suggesting the "reported" demolition was misleading.

The application before the commission asked for permission to relocate or remove the house to provide for a new child ministry/day care center that would meet the needs of the church and community.

A section of the application dealing with proposed altercations contained a box to mark if "Demolition or Relocation" was desired. That box was marked with an "X" indicating demolition or relocation was a proposed altercation.

The commission spent a few minutes addressing the historical significance of the house after Chalmers suggested member Don Perry possessed the most knowledge and asked him to give a report.

Perry gave his childhood recollection of the house, stating that he thought his father and uncle donated the structure to the church and had arranged for the architect, a Starkville man he said also designed his father's home in which he now lives. Perry said he was about six years old when he first went to the house with his father while it was under construction. He said the architect designed other significant houses in the Starkville area and also designed the church's current sanctuary.

The Democrat reported last month that the Baptist parsonage and several other houses in the same area along Pecan Avenue were designed by the now late Starkville architect Tom Johnston.

Among them are what were originally known as the Marion Perry, Walker Jones, Henry Mars and Gully Yates homes.

The Presbyterian manse on Poplar Avenue was also designed by Johnston.

At one point during the discussion, Perry recommended that the church have its architect put in writing why the parsonage couldn't be saved and included in plans for a new day care.

"I think in the final analysis this committee is going to need that," Perry said.

Asked if coming up with some options would be a problem, Howard said he didn't think so, although other church leaders and members adamantly defended the removal of the house, saying they were soundly convinced that all other options had been exhausted and providing alternative plans to the commission was absolutely unnecessary.

Several commission members spoke of how distressed they were personally over having to make a decision.

Chalmers at one point suggested and composed aloud a motion that would amend the application to seek only removal of the historic house and restoration elsewhere, but that did not satisfy church members or leaders.

Perry and other commission members suggested that it may not be practical to move the house because of the expense, which it was estimated during the meeting to range from about $70,000 to move and $300,000 to reassemble on another site.

"Somebody might want to do that, but I'm not sure it's realistic," Perry said.

Mayor Rayburn Waddell was present but did not speak. Waddell is a member of the church.

A letter from Max Loper, chairman of the deacons, was read aloud in his absence. The letter said the church has tried to utilize the house for missionary families and displaced pastors but the effort had not be effective or prudent.

The house has cost the church thousands of dollars to maintain the house, Loper said. Church members cited problems with mold, water in the basement and heating and cooling.

Otherwise, the house is structurally sound, officials said.

Church members told the commission the architect they hired had already studied many options and determined that the site where the house is located is the best suited to build the day care facility.

In a conceptual drawing presented at the meeting, the new addition involves an arched bridge over Oak Street.

Two neighbors near the church spoke in favor of the facility.

No one spoke against the removal or demolition.

Church leaders asked the commission for suggested uses if they were ultimately not allowed to remove the house.

Howard said the church had prayed about uses for the house, including making it available to missionary families on furlough in the United States or to displaced pastors.

The church had advertised those uses within the denomination but no doors had opened, he said.

He noted the church had been serving the community for over 150 years and that members are deeply concerned about the community.

The Historic Commission's statutory role is to oversee any present and future sites that are designated as historically significant and to have authority over outside alterations made to homes in the historic district.

The general purpose of the ordinance is to preserve, enhance and perpetuate those aspects of the city having historical, cultural, architectural, and/or archaeological merit in order to promote and protect the health, safety, prosperity, education and general welfare of the people living in and visiting Philadelphia, according to the ordinance.