Sacred Spaces: What Do You Do With an Empty Church?

church

Finegold Alexander Architects turned this 18th-century church into a 30-unit condo development that marries the modern and the historic (photo courtesy Finegold Alexander Architects).

It all started in a Facebook group: Someone asked about the status of the now-dormant Oak Cliff United Methodist Church in a group devoted to Dallas history.

“Anybody know what’s going on with this place?” the group member asked. “I’ve been driving by it daily on the way to my school and just watching it deteriorate daily. So sad. They can’t tear it down, thankfully.”

Several people commented on deterioration, including one person who shared photos of broken windows and an interior that is exposed to the elements. Another noted that it appeared as if the building was in the process of being boarded up.

Oak Cliff United Methodist Church

That led to a story in the Oak Cliff Advocate about the building being put up for sale, and another story about the church’s merger with Tyler Street UMC.

But finding what is currently going on with the building is difficult. I’ve found a couple of charters that inhabited it at different times (including Honors Academy), but it seems the most recent one, Pegasus School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has moved downtown.

According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District, it’s owned by Victor Ballas, who owns or co-owns 172 properties in and around Dallas. I emailed the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church to see if they knew what happened to the building post-sale, and they also are unaware of any use its had since 2016, when Ballas bought it.

But then I found another listing, this time at the commercial real estate site Crexi.com, which indicated that Davidson & Bogel Real Estate had the active listing. A check of the company’s properties listed on its website did not yield a listing for the church, however.

I looked at church properties listed by Service Realty, who caters to the buying and selling of church properties, and saw several North Texas church structures up for sale, including some historic (or at least could be eligible for protection if someone applied), and some with just some really fantastic architecture.

Indeed, eagle-eyed readers will probably recognize another historic Oak Cliff church building listed for sale, too — Calvary Baptist.

Calvary Baptist Church

But what DO you do with an empty church? You often see it suggested that they become charter school sites or office buildings, but you know around here, we’re kind of fans of the church conversion.

1900 W. 10th, Dallas

Now, you won’t be able to do it with every church. Some are historic and are subject to certain regulations that might preclude it. But we’ve written about some interesting church conversions before, like a live-work space conversion in North Oak Cliff we wrote about in 2016, a church that was converted to office spaces in 2014, and the former home of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Junius Heights, as well as the Junius Heights Church, which was on this year’s Junius Heights home tour.

The former St. John’s United Methodist Church in Junius Heights

The Junius Heights Church

But what we haven’t talked about is the potential for multifamily uses for old church buildings. Many — such as the Calvary Baptist complex — have a lot of square footage that could be divided into affordable one and two bedroom apartments, and even a clutch of studio loft style apartments.

And it’s not such a crazy idea — Building Design & Construction magazine recently wrote about how developers are going church-crazy, seeing the light in the multifamily potential of these often large buildings.

Photos courtesy Finegold Alexander Architects

Take, for instance, this 2017 conversion by Finegold Alexander Architects, which took the 19th-century German Trinity Catholic Church in Boston and converted into a striking 33-unit development that built a modern, glass abode that rises up and out, contained by the original Roxbury Puddingstone walls and a 100-foot tower. Check out the rest of the photos here.

And the conversion isn’t an outlier.

“There have been several recent examples of this kind of adaptive reuse of churches receiving local approval,” John Caulfield, senior editor, wrote. “Community Board 7, representing New York City’s Upper West Side, on April 15 voted in favor of granting a developer a zoning exemption to convert the 112-year-old, 47,000-sf, former First Church of Christ, Scientist, on 96th Street and Central Park West, into 39 condos.”

450 Clinton, a former Norwegian Seamen’s Church

360 Court, the former South Congregational Church

And in New York, there are numerous such conversions, including the former Norwegian Seamen’s Church at 450 Clinton, the old South Congregational Church at 360 Court, and The Sanctuary — a neo-gothic cathedral on Cumberland Street.

The Sanctuary

In Philadelphia, Main Line reBUILD took the historic Narberth United Methodist church and created Narberth Place – three buildings with a mix townhomes and condos, including the parsonage, which became home to three condos, with the developer preserving the building’s original windows, fireplace, tile, and lighting.

So what would you do with an empty church? And what do you hope happens to the churches mentioned today?


Bethany Erickson is the education and public policy writer for CandysDirt.com. She is also the Director of Audience Engagement for Candy’s Media. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists, and is the 2018 NAREE Gold winner for best series and a 2018 Dallas Press Club Hugh Aynsworth Award winner. Contact her at bethany@candysdirt.com.

One Comment

  • This might seem blasphemous for some, but turn it into a climbing gym! Summit Climbing needs a gym in that area to serve that market anyway. I’ve seen a few church-turned-climbing-gyms before, and I’m all for it! Usually churches have high ceilings, which is perfect for that type of use. I’m actually a commercial RE agent and a resident in the Oak Lawn neighborhood, and I’ve reached out to them a few times trying to gauge their interest in coming a bit further south. I used to live in Addison and went to Summit religiously, but since moving south I just can’t justify sitting in traffic after work, so I discontinued my membership.