Recognize this Philadelphia church? Probably not, since it was never built! This was the original design planned for St. Ambrose in the Olney section of the city. Founded in 1923, the parish had ambitions to erect a grand “perpendicular Gothic style” edifice with seating for 1,000 worshippers. Ultimately, however, only the lower church was built as the parish devoted its energy and resources to erecting the parish school. Not alone in its unfulfilled ambition, the plan for St. Ambrose was one of several unrealized visions for towering, cathedral-like sanctuaries that were designed to mark Catholic presence in the city’s booming residential neighborhoods during the early twentieth century.
The story of St. Ambrose is one of many discussed in our ongoing exhibit: Change of Plans: Alternative Architectural Visions of Catholic Philadelphia. It showcases the story of parish development and institutional growth in the archdiocese. By focusing on unbuilt designs, it offers a glimpse of what Catholics desired for their church and how they envisioned their institutions at a particular moment in time, even if just briefly.