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Effort Underway To Breathe New Life, New Purpose Into Philadelphia's Historic Buildings

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Tucked in the shadows of booming new construction projects sits Philadelphia's hidden history -- old forgotten factories, buildings, even churches from another time and era.

With owners' permission, CBS 3 toured some of our city's forgotten past.

We toured Ascension of our Lord Catholic Church. Built in 1914, so much history down this aisle. Weddings, funerals, Sunday Mass. But this was decommissioned 10 years ago and its sat empty ever since.

Once a bustling parish, Ascension Church on E. Westmoreland Street in Harrogate sits empty, artwork removed, windows smashed.

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Brian Elmer, who works for the current owner of the property, says there are some promising plans for the once holy site.

"It could be a women's shelter. It could be a men's shelter for vets. There are quite a few different options," Elmer said.

Just a few blocks from the church, sits the old Blasius Chocolate Factory in Kensington. The business had been open for decades, but closed suddenly in 2014.

Councilman Mark Squila has the goal of preserving historic buildings in the city and finding purpose for them.

"The city of Philadelphia is something that people come to for history so why destroy. Why can't we reuse it?" Squila said.

He represents the First District, stretching from the Delaware Riverfront up to Port Richmond, full of places like the Willow Steam Plant which closed 27 years ago and is now full of asbestos. There are no plans for revitalization.

"We want to be able to save these things. What can we do to make that happen? You can see there is a tree growing out of it," Squila said.

Joel Palmer is one of the people involved in revitalizing the city's old and blighted properties. He runs a two-person conservancy.

"A conservator doesn't take ownership. We take title to the property," he said.

His company then petitions city courts to give control of the properties to allow repairs, or if need be, demolition.

"If a building is fallen into such disrepair that it's not economical to fix, we'll take it down," Palmer explained.

But, the goal is not destruction. It's rebirth, breathing new life into old places like a Kensington factory which sat empty for years. It is now refreshed and on the market as new homes.

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