Church Conversions: A Tricky Thing
Churches are important to the fabric of a neighborhood and community. They serve as local landmarks and establish local identities—the historically iconic St. Francis De Sales in East Walnut Hills and Holy Cross-Immaculata in Mt. Adams are just two churches in Cincinnati that come to mind.
But what happens to a church when the congregation moves on? There are four basic answers: demolition, abandonment (which often leads to demolition), reuse (because the best use for a church is as a church from a design standpoint), or adaptation.
Unfortunately, adaptation occurs less frequently than demolition of old churches. Church buildings are specially designed for a single use and group of users. Efficiency of space is not necessarily a requirement compared to, say, a warehouse, which can be easier to adapt to a different use. Church interiors are built in a grandiose, awe-inspiring manner to hold large gatherings of people. From a functional perspective, similarities in secular society emphasizing this kind of space are somewhat limited (think movies, plays, musical performances).
One soon-to-be successful example in the Greater Cincinnati area: The former Grace Methodist Church, an 1848 Gothic Revival building in Newport, Kentucky’s Monmouth Street Historic District. This beauty will soon be the new home of Southgate House Revival, a music venue. Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood, Columbia Tusculum—famous for its Victorian Painted Ladies—also has an 1895 church-turned-playhouse currently for resale at 3900 Riverside Drive.
On the negative side, however, it is easy to see the mismatch in the need and sustainability of these venue types compared to the drastic increase in number of closed and vacant churches over the last several of decades- a regional as well as national trend.
Although there have been creative adaptations requiring less interior design changes-one is this striking modern bookstore found inside a 13th century Dominican Church in Maastricht, Holland-most adaptations require radical alteration to the interior building space.
Church conversions are also complicated for a variety of other reasons—besides their atypical interior space/exterior features, other factors are regulatory, financial, and the development process itself.
Cincinnati is fortunate to have two church adaptations currently underway: The 1873 Romanesque Revival-style St. Patrick’s Church in Northside was purchased in July 2012 by Queen City Cookies. This local bakery is transforming the building into a bakery and commercial kitchen, retail outlet, and dessert bar.
And in Walnut Hills, the Gothic Revival-style Church of the Assumption on Gilbert Avenue was recently purchased to be used as a studio by artists Justin Poole and Laura Davis of Core Clay. One challenge they face is that the church may never have had a heating system!
Still awaiting their fate-and currently listed for sale-is Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sedamsville (a topic of a previous blog post) and the former Seventh Presbyterian Church located in East Walnut Hills….
Church conversions anyone?