Downtown church headed for sale as buyers residence
Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the door and see a luxurious living room, sofa and color TV.
A pre-Civil-War church in downtown Charleston appears on the verge of being purchased by a local businesswoman with a knack for upgrades who plans to make it her next home.
Not everyone is embracing this transformation, but Nancy Snowden said she is helping save the 1840s-era St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church at 43 Wentworth St.
“I’m not a developer,” she said Thursday. “I’m a restorationist.”
While buying a church as residential “rehab” might sound novel, it is not unprecedented. There are well-known converted “church-homes” in Mount Pleasant and on Sullivan’s Island, while downtown Charleston conversions include a church becoming a sports bar and another becoming a museum.
Aging congregations, shrinking membership and not being able to afford expensive years of upkeep are among the driving factors.
Commercial realty websites list the St. Andrew’s property at $2.795 million, far below the $4.5 million asking price of four years ago. Calls to the listed real estate agent were not returned.
The contract is expected to be executed this week, Snowden said, but she declined to disclose a settlement figure.
One hurdle to the switchover came down Tuesday after Charleston’s zoning board approved Snowden’s request for a usage variance. The Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association voiced its support.
Some connected to the church are unhappy about the conversion idea. They call it a slap.
“It’s a travesty that a historic church is going to become a home where somebody is going to be cooking and using the bathroom,” said Barbara Keil, an 81-year-old Charlestonian.
Keil, who has worshipped inside the sanctuary, spoke of a “beautifully carved pulpit” meant “for preaching God’s word” that was being cast aside.
The sale reportedly includes the 6,445-square-foot sanctuary, neighboring 12,441-square-foot fellowship hall and a 15-space parking lot. The fellowship building will become two housing units and office space, according to city records.
The church Snowden is buying doesn’t actually have the proverbial steeple. It’s a Greek Revival with the outside face dominated by four huge support columns.
Inside, the pews and balcony can accommodate about 450 people. And while the building is owned by St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, it is getting out of downtown for West Ashley. Redeemer Presbyterian has been the resident congregation the past few years.
Snowden, who runs a clinical research company, said her rehab plan is the best option for the site because it prevents the area from becoming multi-dwelling homes. She already has upgraded more than a dozen properties, she said.
“It’s not like I’m running around doing office parks and condominiums,” she said. “It’s just the architecture that I like to save.”
Robert Gurley, assistant director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, said ideally the group wants to see churches in the city remain as churches.
But he added that the group is not opposed, in this case, to the church’s “adaptive use” as a single-family residence.
Snowden plans to keep the church sanctuary mostly open-spaced so that it could still be returned to a worship house some day. For instance, her dining room table will be where the altar is, she said.
“It’s going to be a very unique home, it’s going to be beautiful,” she said.