By Constance Garcia-Barrio
Zion Baptist Church builds on a North Broad Legacy
Zion Baptist Church, which peaked at 6,000 members under civil rights leader and social activist Leon H. Sullivan, is typical of a congregation that is struggling to build upon the legacy of a larger-than-life figure who put the church on the map. Located on North Broad in the Nicetown/Tioga neighborhood, the church wants to use its annex to foster optimism. “I grew up about half a block from here,” says the Reverend Michael Major, Sr., 58, associate minister of Zion Baptist Church and president of Called to Serve Community Development Corporation, Zion’s community partner. “Today, I help develop computer software for a Wall Street firm. I’m there because of support I received through Zion.”
“I was in the youth choir, the Boy Scouts, the basketball league, SAT prep classes and more.” Many of these programs operated in the annex, he says.
“The annex can give others the same opportunity. Helping people is part of Zion’s DNA, a legacy of the Reverend Leon Sullivan,” Major says of the pastor who led Zion from 1950 to 1988.
Zion’s congregation, 500 strong, has two sites: A 1970s building at 3600 North Broad Street and an annex directly across from it. Built as a handsome stone church in the early 1900s, the annex once housed Zion’s outreach programs, but it has stood vacant since 2015. Zion aims to change that.
“We want the annex to be a place where local residents gain tools to build fulfilling lives for themselves,” Major says.
Reactivation of the annex stands at the heart of a vision to revitalize the commercial corridor, referred to historically, and again recently by Mayor Kenney, as “the Times Square of North Philly.”
Enter Studio 6mm, an award-winning Philadelphia architecture, design and planning firm selected to partner with Zion through the initiative. Their design team developed plans to help the annex become a fount of hope.
“The annex has good bones,” says architect David Quadrini, Jr., 38, a prinicipal of Studio 6mm. Three floors plus a lower level could provide an envelope for several programs, Quadrini notes.
“We had about 65 people representing different sectors of Nicetown/Tioga at the very first meeting,” Brian Szymanik, another of Studio 6mm’s principal architects, says.
“People agreed that an urgent care center on the lower level could increase the health of the community,” Quadrini says.
“The first floor of the annex could become a multi-use space for meetings and events,” Major says, noting that it could also house a food co-op similar to Mariposa in West Philly.
Ideas for the second and third floors include classrooms for STEAM education and shared business space.
Zion has just begin to consider sources of funding. While aspects of the project remain fluid, Major has a sharp vision of what Zion could achieve.
“People just need a chance,“ he says. “And the annex will provide it.”