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Say a prayer for Cleveland's abandoned churches

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/18/13 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Reduce

Finding a second life for churches continues to vex historic preservationists. And so the latest news that two more Cleveland landmark churches will succumb to the wrecking ball is being met with a shrug instead of a plan to preserve what’s left.

No reprieve<br />The Transfiguration Church was built in 1902 and designed by the architectural firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. Ralph Adams Cram is considered the American master of the Gothic Revival architectural style in ecclesiastical and academic buildings. Image: Cleveland.comThreatened landmarks<br />Fifth Church of Christ Scientists at the border of Lakewood and Cleveland will be razed for new development. Still inspired<br />Product designers Nottingham Spirk converted a church into their office in Cleveland.A second life<br />The Brownstones at Derbyshire were converted into five condominiums and then added to with new living spaceA new creation<br />Josaphat Arts Hall hosts art exhibits and weddings in its former nave

The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) and, ironically, the defunct center for Sacred Landmarks at Cleveland State University have long held a torch for the houses of the holy. Lately, some grass-roots groups like Save Lower Prospect, Neighbors in Action and City Beautiful have sprouted to fight for Cleveland landmarks.

CRS notes that Church of the Transfiguration, a Cleveland landmark at E. 86th and Euclid, will be demolished to make way for a Holiday Inn. The Cleveland Clinic will buy the land. CRS opposed the demolition, and created this resource page that includes some nice case studies on reusing churches in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland at the border with Lakewood, the striking Fifth Church of Christ Scientist will be razed for a grocery store.

The Center for Sacred Landmarks at Cleveland State University once documented churches in need, and even helped restore and light their steeples. Sometimes they just helped salvage stained glass windows when buildings were taken down.

Cleveland.com once called it a debate, but little thought appears to be going into the abandoned churches on Euclid. They are simply succumbing to the wave of institutional development. CRS notes, “this loss follows the demolition earlier this year of the 1889 Reformed Episcopal Church of the Epiphany across the street. It is now a landscaped lot.”

Isn't it time for a little inspiration? For the good of the neighborhood we want University Circle to be. The grandeur of these old churches bolsters Euclid Avenue's appeal to those seeking historic charm, walkability and a transit-rich environment. New housing choices within walking distance of the Clinic started with Church Square in the 1990s. It planted a flag.

Churches are built with massive potential for, ahem, an afterlife. Market dynamics may save some churches as living spaces, as they did with the Brownstones at Derbyshire, a condo conversion of an abandoned church in Cleveland Heights. Or, the adaptive reuse of a church at E. 33rd to Josaphat Arts Hall, which includes apartments and the Convivium 33 gallery. Or as office space like product designers Nottingham Spirk did with the First Church of Christ Scientists overlooking Little Italy.

Sacred Landmarks, in its case study for The Civic, an important synagogue in Cleveland Heights that became a community center, talks about how these projects aren’t miracles.

“There are only two resources that can be accessed to fund a project such as saving the Civic—government and the private giving community. The people who saved the Civic were fortunate to find themselves in a city with people concerned about saving historical buildings and willing to use some of their political and monetary capital to help. They were also fortunate to live in a community with a wealth of private charitable foundations that also shared the city's goals of saving the best of its historical architecture.”

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