South Philadelphia Church Salvage Project

“It’s good to get back to our roots,” observed Provenance co-owner Scott Lash as his crew hoisted a massive chandelier towards the ceiling of Provenance’s headquarters. One teetered on the top rung of the ladder, while another lay belly flat on the prongs of a forklift, adjusting the light into place. Just hours before, the mirrored reflector light was in its original home at the First African Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. Getting it down required equally precarious measures, as one courageous member of the Provenance staff perched in the church’s rafters and lowered it down with a rope.

Even with all the danger involved, there was no chance that Provenance could pass on the light fixtures from the historic church. Designed by Watson & Huckel in the early 1900s, the First African Baptist Church, was one of the longest-running African American places of worship in Philadelphia. Due to structural issues and the neighborhood’s continuing gentrification, the congregation was forced to move to a new space in University City.

Though First African Baptist’s website claims that it’s not fancy, nor does it encourage “church hat wars,” there were plenty of visual riches inside its original location. Provenance was lucky enough to acquire a chandelier – a flurry of tendrils and faux candles – that shone down from the pink-and-blue ceiling along with brass sconces hanging above cherubic molding. But the aforementioned reflector light? Pure heaven. American Reflector manufactured the starburst of mirrored facets in 1879. It’s easy to imagine sitting rapt during a Sunday sermon under its glow.