Churches, for the most part, are sturdily built. Especially in older cities, many church buildings were erected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most were built using rough-cut stone or brick for the walls inside and out. Over the past thirty or forty years, societal changes have in many ways altered the way people worship, and the parishes that many of these structures were built to support have shrunk in size, sometimes merging with others and sometimes disestablishing and closing down.
As the numbers of parishioners fall, churches look for ways to keep going, and it’s not uncommon for some to sell off property they own, including parts of the church itself and/or the space above them. Developers rarely demolish a church structure. Besides their stout construction, these properties are often beautiful and richly detailed. Many provide interesting and unusual features that, when incorporated into the newly renovated space, whether that be offices or residences, are attractive to many buyers.
One of the latest such projects is in Greenpoint. Almost three years ago, the Church of the Ascension sold its dilapidated parish hall building at 120 Java Street and the air rights of the church proper to SL Development, and that company has now begun its renovation of the old brick building. The new façade makes use of much of the existing face of the hall (where in this case that original could be described as somewhat less than beautiful), giving it a major face lift and adding two floors. When complete, there will be eighteen apartments, each around 1,300 sq. ft. The new front is quite striking, and generally the project is in keeping with the scale and look of the old façade, though updated to a twenty-first century style.
The parish hall was built separate from the church building, which dates to 1866 (the parish was established in 1846), and although the hall has some recent historical significance as a refuge center for people displaced or otherwise affected by Hurricane Sandy, its redevelopment will not be a blow to the neighborhood as can sometimes happen in repurposing existing structures.
This is a project that, all in all, should benefit all parties involved, including homeowners and other residents on and around Java Street.