In most cities, a building with multicolored kaleidoscope glass and a rusty steeple is undoubtedly a church, but in Pittsburgh it could be something very different – it could be a concert hall, a brewery, a bar. at hookah or even a night club.
Converted churches are everywhere in Pittsburgh – from the Braddock Community Cafe in Braddock to the Church Recording Studio in Mount Oliver – which makes sense given Pittsburgh’s industrial decline over the past 30 to 40 years.
Dan Holland, a Pitt graduate student whose thesis focuses on the transformation of post-industrial cities, said the large amount of churches in Pittsburgh is the result of the wave of Catholic and Protestant immigrants who have come to the United States in recent centuries.
“This is a problem for almost all of the old industrial towns that once had a large population of Catholics, Protestants and immigrants and no longer have them,” Holland said. “And all of the areas around Pittsburgh were all facing the same issues. It is a problem, but there are solutions. We’ve got to be really creative about them, you know, what we do with them.
Holland has named Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Youngstown after other cities like Pittsburgh that are experiencing the same shift in dynamics from religious properties to redeveloped spaces. According to Holland, most of the churches were built in the neighborhoods just outside of Pittsburgh, and added that there is even a street in Homewood called Church Street.
“I think about every block [in Homewood] there is at least one church, if not two, ”Holland said. “But when people left town – got away and turned away from religion and became more secular – they basically abandoned a lot of these churches. ”
Brew Works Church – a brewery in Lawrenceville – has been transformed of St. John the Baptist Church, which had closed and slept for three years until owner Sean Casey bought it in February 1996.
“[The church] reminded me of legendary old European breweries – spacious buildings, beautiful architecture, ”Casey said. “Breweries in a way become a fabric of the community and can become places of social gathering. “
The renovation of the brewery took six months, and according to Casey, they are still renovating due to the old age of the building. Because Casey owns another church in Lawrenceville – which he turns into condominiums – and because Church Brew Works is one of a small number of churches turned into breweries in the United States, Casey said he is always being sought advice from others reassigning churches .
“My first piece of advice: save the roof. Don’t let him run away, ”Casey said.
Although many entrepreneurs around Pittsburgh take Casey’s initiative and buy churches for the site of their businesses, the Altar Bar – a church turned into a place of music – is taking a strange, almost complete change.
What was once St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in the Strip District – a church built in 1908 to serve the Slovak community – was reborn as Altar Bar in 2006. Altar Bar announced plans to close last summer, and in its place now stands a church non-denominational known as Orchard hill. Orchard Hill Senior Pastor Kurt Bjorkland said he’s just looking for any property that’s affordable and suitable for sermons.
Bjorkland also wanted the church to be convenient for members of the church, which was conveniently located in the Pittsburgh Triangle or the Strip District. The decision was easy to make, both because of the location of the Altar Bar – which was already on the verge of closing – and because buying closed churches is cheaper than building new ones. .
“We didn’t set out to restore a property that was a church and is no longer a church – the opportunity arose and we thought it would be a fun project to work on, ”said Bjorkland.
Orchard Hill, which has been in existence since the late 1980s and has three locations, has a congregation of over 2,500 members, according to their website. Bjorkland said the church was still renovating the building and they hoped to open in 2018.
Bjorkland didn’t seem to mind that the Diocese of Pittsburgh held a desanctification ceremony on the building in 2001 before it moved from a church to a club. Most churches are desecrated – stripped of sacred objects – by the diocese when converted into something other than a church.
“We don’t see a building itself as only sanctified or unsanctified,” Bjorkland said. “A building is a building. “
Bjorkland said the church jumped from space to space – from the August Wilson Center to Our Clubhouse, a Strip District nonprofit that helps support people with cancer, and now to this which was once the Altar Bar. According to him, they didn’t care where they held services as long as they could come together and connect with God.
Bjorkland said a building is just a building – the same exact wording Casey used after he said the Bishop of Pittsburgh put St. John’s under an act of suppression on the 6th. August 1993, so that he could turn it into a brewery.
Turning the church into a brewery seems like a concept much of the community can buy into – Church Brew Works has even become something of a tourist attraction.
“We’ve been in business for 21 years now, and I think a lot of Pittsburghians like to bring anyone from out of town here to show it. […] like something unique and special in Pittsburgh, ”said Casey.
Churches renovated into breweries are rare, but their number in the United States is growing exponentially. There are also a few instances where closed churches have become other types of trendy places. – just look at the Sphinx Cafe on Atwood Street or the Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale.
But many closed churches have not been so lucky – Holland said not only that a decent number of churches had been closed in recent years, but in many cases many had also been demolished.
“The biggest loss – there was a Ukrainian Catholic church on Route 28 in Troy Hill, and it’s gone,” Holland said. “There was a long effort on the part of the North Side to save him, but he wasn’t saved – he left. But you know, we have to learn from these experiences and learn for the next big church. “
Holland launched the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh – a youth organization dedicated to historic preservation, which hosted a conference on religious properties earlier this year. He also mentioned that there are many other organizations in the country whose main purpose is to save religious buildings.
“What we have left is this huge legacy, really, and this inventory of religious properties that need attention and preservation,” Holland said.
And by preservation, Holland doesn’t just mean buildings function like churches – he said he’d rather see churches repurposed rather than see them destroyed. Casey also said the least we can do is save the historic buildings themselves.
“In my life, I’ve seen churches bulldozed down, and once they’re gone they don’t come back,” Casey said. “So it’s good if the creatives do cool things with them. “