Posted tagged ‘churches’

Church to Condo Conversion Development Trending Up in the District

September 23, 2016

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday that focused on the challenge of converting a historic church property into condos. While church to condo conversions have been happening throughout the District — with some project being more successful than others — I suspect that we’ll see our share of them in the Columbia Heights/Petworth area in the near future.

One property I’ve definitely had my eye on is the old Rona Baptist Church building at 13th and Monroe streets, NW. It’s been for sale for quite a while now and is currently home to Grace Meridian Hill Church. Several years ago there had been some discussion about converting the old Methodist church on Columbia Road between 14th and 15th streets into housing as well.

Closer to home, the old Pittman church building on Morton Street just east of Sherman was recently converted into condos with new infill construction along Sherman Avenue as part of the development.

Below is a video that was made of the developer of Morton Street Mews, where he talks about his project and the church.

Early History of Petworth Methodist Church

March 6, 2015

Petworth United Methodist Church(Petworth United Methodist Church today.)

One of the early buildings on Grant Circle is the Petworth Methodist Church. The current church was dedicated in 1916, making it an early Petworth structure, yet it wasn’t the first location of the Petworth Methodist Episcopal Church, nor the first building for area Methodists.

The original site of the Petworth Methodist Episcopal Church was on the northwest corner of 8th and Shepherd streets, NW. The property for the first Methodist church building was a gift of George W.F. Swartzell. With a congregation of 42 members, the cornerstone for the one-story red brick building was laid on April 23, 1906. The chapel was completed and dedicated on October 14, 1906. The original building was small as none knew if the congregation would succeed or not, but in less than a year the church structure was crowded and it became impossible to house and seat all the congregation.

Petworth Methodist 1909(1909 drawing of new Petworth M.E. Church showing original chapel to the west (left) with proposed new addition to the east (right). The new auditorium was never built.)

By May 1909, plans were made to enlarge the edifice. The new auditorium was designed by architect William J. Palmer and roughly seventy by eighty-five feet, with arrangements for a large choir and organ in the rear of the pulpit. The structure was to be built of brick and finished in pure white pebble-dash. However, these plans never came to pass.


The original chapel of the former Methodist church at 8th and Shepherd ca. 1920, when used as a school. Image from Library of Congress.

During the fall of 1914 and the early spring of 1915 the church was turned over to the United States government for a sum of $15,000 to be used as a schoolhouse for children of the Petworth district. The Petworth public schools at that time were in need of additional space. The church building was adjacent to the old Petworth School, which along with the church would also make use of portable classrooms before razing the church building and expanding the school.

In April 1915 plans were made to erect a new church building. The contract was awarded to Charles E. Wire, a member of the church. Ground was broken for this building on the afternoon of July 11, 1915. On November 30, 1915, the corner stone was laid by the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, of the District of Columbia, Hon. Alexander Grant, grand master. The building was dedicated on October 8, 1916, by Rev. William F. McDowell, resident bishop of Washington.

Petworth Methodist 1915(Elevation published in 1915 of the new church building.)

The design of the church is Tudor-Gothic, and the octagonal shape was reportedly patterned after the architecture of the period of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The auditorium was designed to comfortably seat 500, and by use of the Akron system seating arrangement may be provided for 800.

Petworth Methodist(Auditorium of Petworth Methodist during community meeting.)


“As Petworth Methodist Episcopal Church Will Appear When Completed.” The Evening Star, July 10, 1915, Part 2, p. 8.

“Church Arranges Dedication Week.” The Washington Times, September 30, 1916, p. 12.

“Church to be Begun Soon.” The Washington Post, May 30, 1915, p. 15.

“Church to be Dedicated.” The Washington Post, September 27, 1916, p. 4.

“Dedicate New Church.” The Washington Post, October 15, 1906, p. 10.

“Methodists Start Church.” The Washington Post, April 24, 1906, p. 14.

“Modern Church Cold.” The Washington Post, July 12, 1915, p. 4.

“New Church is Planned.” The Washington Post, May 16, 1909, p. CA8.

“Petworth M.E. Church.” Washington Herald, July 15, 1922, p. 6.

“Petworth M.E. Church.” The Washington Star, May 16, 1909, Part 2, p. 5.

Historic Photos of the 1921 Groundbreaking for Columbia Heights National Baptist Memorial Church

April 23, 2014
The National Baptist Memorial Church at 16th Street and Columbia Road.

The National Baptist Memorial Church at 16th Street and Columbia Road.

Recently I found three photos showing the groundbreaking ceremonies for the National Baptist Memorial Church located at Columbia Road and 16th Street, NW. I’ve often admired the building and am pleased that it is not only a landmark structure but also within the recently designated Meridian Hill Historic District.

Construction of the church began in 1921 with a groundbreaking ceremony on April 23rd (93 years ago today). The ceremony was attended by several hundred persons with the honor of turning the first spadeful of earth given to President Harding.

“The event was marked by a ceremony that was solemn, impressive, and brief” according to The Sunday Star.

SCAN0058(Looking south with Columbia Road in the background. Photo from author’s collection.)

President Harding made no speech at the event, but in speaking to the officials of the ceremonies, The Washington Post reported that Harding said “We can not have too many monuments to religious liberty and we can not have too much religion in this land.”

Harding used a brand new spade, tied with red, white and blue ribbons in turning out a neat square of ground. With accuracy and precision he marked the four corners of the square with the spade, dug it out with a single stroke and with another placed it in the toy express wagon of 8-year-old Gove Griffith Johnson, jr. the son of Rev. Gove Griffith Johnson, pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church which was incorporated into the new church upon completion. The boy then presented the President with a bouquet of flowers from the members of the church. President Harding, after greeting the officials, returned to the White House.

Below are two more images of the ceremonies from the Library of Congress collection.

Harding Groundbreaking 1

Harding Groundbreaking 2


William Sidney Pittman and His Church on Morton Street

February 19, 2014
Originally built for Trinity A.M.E. Zion church in 1905, the small church at 777 Morton Street was designed by black architect William Sidney Pittman.

Originally built for Trinity A.M.E. Zion church in 1905, the small church at 777 Morton Street was designed by black architect William Sidney Pittman.

At the beginning of February, we learned that the small church at 777 Morton Street, NW, has been sold to a developer and is going to be developed into a new three-building, 26-unit condo project. The church building currently sitting on the lot is to be incorporated into one of those buildings, but will be significantly altered and largely unrecognizable after construction. This got me wondering about the building and I’ve since learned that it was originally built in 1905 for Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church — a historically African-American Christian denomination that officially formed in 1821. Washington’s A.M.E. Zion church dates to the 1880s.

The church building is modest, and in reaching out to Patsy Fletcher — a member of the Historic Preservation Office who I’ve worked with on the Historic Park View walking trail and various African American heritage trail nominations — I learned that this was often true of black churches. According to Fletcher, an important point is that for the most part early black church buildings are going to be modest mainly due to the lack of substantial funds to erect anything more monumental. In many instances, the parishioners did the actual building of the structure once they had the design.

I also learned that the church on Morton street was designed by architect William Sidney Pittman, the first professional African American architect to maintain his own office. Moreover, the church on Morton Street was Pittman’s first commission as a professional architect.

Based on Susan Pearl’s biography of Pittman in African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, here’s what is known about the architect.

William Sidney Pittman was born in 1875 in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 21, 1875, and was educated in the segregated public schools of Montgomery. As a young man, Pittman worked for his uncle, Will Watkins, who was a carpenter.[1] In 1892, at the age of seventeen, he enrolled at Tuskegee Institute, where he studied drawing under R.R. Taylor, the first African American to graduate from the Beaux-Arts architecture program at M.I.T. Pittman completed his studies in mechanical and architectural drawing in 1897 and graduated with a degree in architectural drawing. With financial support from Tuskegee Institute’s principal, Booker T. Washington, Pittman continued his education at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, and earned a diploma in architectural drawing in 1900. Pittman returned to Tuskegee to teach as an assistant in the Division of Architectural and Mechanical Drawing. In this capacity, he also supplied blueprints for several buildings on the Tuskegee campus.

Pittman left Tuskegee for Washington, D.C. in May 1905. He began work as a draftsman in the office of John Anderson Lankford, and by October he opened his own office at 494 Louisiana Ave, NW, in the same building as Lankford in an effort to establish himself as an architect.[2] This made Pittman the only African American architect in the United States maintaining his own office. His first commission was to design a new church for the Trinity A.M.E. Zion congregation on Morton Street, NW. The project progressed well, with the cornerstone being laid on December 10, 1905, and the building completed in advance of dedication ceremonies beginning on May 27, 1906. (more…)

Work Continues on Fisherman of Men Church

January 16, 2014

In reviewing applications for building permits this week, I noticed that the Fisherman of Men Church (below) has applied to install a canopy with the dimensions of 23.5′ by 3′  and 20′ by 5′.

Fisherman of Men Church

I presume this will be above their Georgia Avenue entrance and look similar to the rendering below:

This postcard provides an idea of what the updated Fisherman of Men church could look like

This postcard provides an idea of what the updated Fisherman of Men church could look like

Grace Meridian Hill Church Celebrating New Home with Jazz and Ice Cream Community Open House This Friday!

September 5, 2013
Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

Click for printable version of the open house flyer.

If you like Jazz, ice cream sundaes, and would like to help Grace Meridian Hill church celebrate their new home in the Mt. Rona Church building (13th and Monroe streets, NW) … you’ll want to consider attending their open house tomorrow night.

Grace Meridian Hill is a church that’s been meeting in the Dance Institute of Washington for the last 3 years. This Sunday they’re officially moving their meeting location to the historic Mt. Rona Baptist Church at 13th and Monroe streets. They’re pretty excited about the move, and about the chance to meet in such a historic neighborhood building.

On Friday evening, September 6th, they’re having an Open House and Jazz night featuring Attila Molnar (and friends) . It’s from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  at the Mt. Rona Baptist Church. There will be Jazz, Pop, and maybe a little Funk music, and an ice cream sundae bar. They’re looking forward to a fun night and getting to meet their new community neighbors.

If you’re planning on going, print out the coupon below. It will grant you one free ice cream sundae.

Ice cream sundae coupon

Recent Improvements at the Fisherman of Men Church

August 2, 2013
The church is currently installing tree-like decorative features in its arched areas.

The church is currently installing tree-like decorative features in its arched areas.

If you haven’t walked past the Fisherman of Men Church (at 3641 Georgia) lately, you probably haven’t noticed their latest improvements. Currently, they are in the process of painting their arched entryways purple and installing what appear to be a tree-inspired decorative feature in the archways.

Readers may recall that the church is located in the former York Theater building, and that a recent historic landmark nomination of the building failed largely due to the Fisherman of Men’s opposition to the nomination despite a favorable HPO staff report recommending the nomination be approved.

I’d be curious to see what residents think about these improvements. Do these aesthetic changes to the York building enhance the Georgia Avenue streetscape?

Installation of new decorative features at the Fisherman of Men church, 3641 Georgia.

Installation of new decorative features at the Fisherman of Men church, 3641 Georgia.

Guest Editorial: D.C. Churches Beware!

July 29, 2013

As members of the community are aware, New Commandment Baptist Church recently sold their building at 625 Park Road to relocate outside Washington. I’ve been following this development as information has become available.

Today, I am including a guest editorial from Rev. Stephen Tucker of the New Commandment Baptist Church in which he addresses the difficulties churches face if they remain in Washington, including parking stresses which have been noted by others. He also addresses a snag the church discovered that was attached to a District grant that was later cancelled.

Below is Rev. Tucker’s editorial (click on image for larger, printable version):

D.C. churches beware

Construction Continues at the Fisherman of Men Church

September 17, 2012

Alterations to the building’s main entrance on Georgia Avenue

The Fisherman of Men Church, located at 3641 Georgia Avenue in the former York Theater, is continuing its building remodeling project. At present, the church is working on the main entrance to the building.

I’ve been scratching my head on this project for a while as there has been very little information shared with me by the church and I wasn’t entirely sure about their vision. I now have a much better idea due to a postcard that was found on the ground while walking the community (below). Aesthetically, it doesn’t appear that there are any plans to significantly alter the exterior of the church, which I appreciate. Although, the design rendering also appears to remove the upper roof (probably not something that will actually be done) and to add a giant video screen to the roof.

From a practical standpoint, however, I still have a significant concern with the work being done at the entrance of the building mostly due to the serious crack in the brick and bow to the wall that exists between the entrance and the first arch. Structurally, this should have been addressed and stabilized prior to the concrete board, foam, and stucco that is being applied over it. Failure to do this prior to the new work in front of it will just lead to a larger problem in the future.

This postcard provides an idea of what the updated Fisherman of Men church could look like


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