Church might become city historic landmark

Hampden building meets the criteria for landmark designation, officials say

June 08, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Whether to make a brown brick church on the main "Avenue" of Hampden a city historic landmark is scheduled to be the first item on the planning commission agenda today.

Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1000 block of W. 36th St., a handsome structure with a distinctive tower, meets the criteria of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), city officials said. The building is being renovated after a fire last year.

If the newly sworn-in planning commission approves the designation, the item would go to the City Council for a vote and, if approved, to the mayor for his signature.

The CHAP report, prepared this spring, noted that Grace-Hampden Church, as it is commonly called, was built in 1899 and designed in a Romanesque Revival style by turn-of-the-century architect George Haskell.

Another Hampden Victorian vintage building, the Northern District police station on Keswick Road, also is under consideration for historic landmark status, a designation that brings a city tax credit to owners of such properties.

Charles C. Graves III, the city planning director, said last week that taxes of owners of historic landmarks generally are frozen at the pre-improvement level for 10 years to encourage preservation and recycling of old buildings.

Jack Gilden, 35, the owner and president of Gilden Advertising, said he recently purchased the burned-out church for $115,000, planning to remake it into his company's headquarters.

Gilden said the tax credits he might receive for rehabilitating a historic property did not influence his decision to buy Grace-Hampden church.

The interior has largely been emptied out, Gilden said, and transforming the church's open space - stained-glass windows and all - into offices lies ahead. He estimated the project's cost at $1.5 million and said he hopes to open the doors in January.

Gilden said he has roots in the area.

"My grandfather owned a grocery store in this neighborhood, and I've always admired the building," he said. "The outside will be as close to bringing back 1899 as possible."

Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of CHAP, said, "We're pleased to add this to the list of [the city's] historic structures."

The CHAP report documenting the church's claim to recognition noted that it had served the Hampden mill community for decades and that a copper box - perhaps containing a time capsule of sorts - may be buried near the foundation.

"It could shed a lot of light on a community's history 100 years ago," Kotarba said.

Denise Whiting, owner of neighboring Cafe Hon, said she is thrilled by the prospect of a thriving business next door.

The church building had been an "eyesore" for years and was in desperate need of renewal, she said.

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