I’ve mentioned before that I love when a living space is a converted from another type of space – such as a church or school. I harbor the deep desire to one day live in such a unique space!
Last week, I visited the Bell Tower Place in Watertown, MA. Housed in what was once St. Theresa’s Church, this new condo development is a wonderful preservation project undertaken by Phoenix Construction Group, Inc. The one time Catholic Church was decommissioned in 2002 due to a parking shortage. In fact, there was no parking lot and no surrounding property on which to build. Built over 100 years ago, the church would have served a very local Catholic working class population who most likely walked, or perhaps took a trolley to nearby (but not THAT nearby) Watertown Square. These days, the Catholic population is likely more spread out and the need for parking became a problem.
So, the church was closed, and sat there empty for a few years when the folks at Pheonix came along with a plan to create gorgeous luxury condos within the main church and the adjacent rectory while preserving the architectural and historic integrity of the building. A big plan! My initial reaction was surprise that they didn’t encounter strong neighborhood protest and fear of gentrification and increased property taxes. The developers were smart and worked closely with the community to create a plan that not only preserved as much of the outside architecture as possible, but also used craftsman and workers who themselves had been parishioners. Smart move. For their work, Phoenix Construction Group won two 2008 Contractor of the Year (COTY) Awards – the COTY Gold Award for Best Commercial Project and the Silver Award for Best Residential Specialty Space.
I met with developer Karnig Ostayan last week who gave me a tour of some of the completed and still under contruction units. Several of the units are already sold – I’d have loved to see how some of those folks had their places decorated! I was told that the buyers have all been very artistic folks – writers, musicians, etc. Makes sense. Spaces like this are very special and in many ways, require a lot of imagination.
Let’s start our tour:
One of the big exterior changes made to the building was the removal of the original stairs in the front of the church, leading up from the sidewalk. The stairs were removed allowing for driveway access to a basement parking garage for the unit owners. There are now stair cases on each side of the landing, leading to outdoor balcony space for the two front units.
These are images of the model unit #5. All of the original columns and internal architectural structure have been maintained as much as possible.
Note the second story overlooking the main living area. In some units, this is an open balcony space for use as a den or office, however, the glass walls are an option if an owner wishes to make this room into a more private space. Add some curtains on the inside and privacy is available when needed!
Many of the materials have been reused from other parts of the project, such as the coffered ceilings, which you see below under construction in one of the units:
I asked about the original stained glass windows and was told that they (along with the lights) were removed by the Archdiocese prior to the sale for use in other churches. There is a national registry of stained glass and other church-y items so that new churches can make use of existing inventory from closed churches. Karnig told me that the pews were still in the building when they took it over and they kept shuffling them around, working around them in hopes of finding them a new home. In the end, they were able to pass them on to a new church in Annaheim, CA. Phoenix Construction even donated to the transportation fees. Loving all the reuse of materials!
One thing I really appreciated is all the attention to details such as how not to cut off the tops of existing windows which are taller than ceiling height. For example:
These are the windows over the sink in unit #1. In order to bring as much light into the space and not cut off the tops of the windows, the builders cut into into the floor above. The image below shows the space over the 3 tall kitchen windows. It now becomes an architectural feature in the bedroom above! If you look back up at the exterior front facade, you will see the long triplet windows aside the main doors. Tricks such as this happen all over the project.
Spaces like this really do require a lot of imagination on the part of the buyer. These are not square boxes at all:
There’s a lot of attention to the outdoor spaces for the unit owners with each unit have lots of windows and one or even two private outdoor spots.
The copper gables add significantly to the spaciousness and lighting of the units. They used copper which was architecturally appropriate to the building itself and will certainly age beautifully!
The adjacent rectory as also been restored and turned into two large condos. I didn’t see this building, but the exterior is lovely, as are the ground connecting the two buildings.
I hope to be able to add photos of the original church exterior and interior soon! Oh, and if you’re wondering – the bell tower is in fact part of one of the units. The unfinished unit (photos above) gets the access (four flights!) to the bell tower. I am dying to know what one would do with one’s own bell tower!
All photos by Linda Merrill, unless noted otherwise.