It’s remarkable to think that the intersection of 18th & Wharton was home to three different religious institutions just a few short years ago, and today there are none. Back in 2015, we told you that developers had purchased the double-wide church on the northeast corner and had plans for two homes. Those homes sold at the end of 2017, each trading at over $500K.
More recently, a little over a year ago, we told you about some upcoming changes for the Friendship Baptist Church at 1730 Wharton St., which is far more architectural satisfying than its demolished neighbor across the street, and certainly deserving of its place on the local historic register. As we told you then, the building dates back to 1888, having been designed by J. Franklin Stuckert as the 18th Street Methodist Episcopal Church. When we wrote our story, the building had recently been purchased by developers and said developers were pursuing a plan to convert the building into a ten-unit apartment building.
The project required ZBA approval, and we weren’t too sure about how the community would balance a project that would preserve a neighborhood landmark, but with a total lack of parking. While we don’t know exactly how the politics played out, we do know that the project did indeed receive its needed variance back in early 2019, at which point the owners immediately set out to sell it to someone in what’s we’d call a “value add” transaction. It took a little time and several price discounts, but a buyer eventually emerged for the property and paid a little over $1M for their trouble. As this only closed in the last few weeks, we have to think that construction should finally get started someone soon, though the clock is surely stopped right now with the citywide construction stoppage.
Given the current state of the former True Way Church on the northwest corner, we hope those developers have a waiver to continue working until the building is secure. This property, which traded at the end of 2018, will eventually be a four unit building with commercial space on the first floor. The back of the building is currently missing and an addition is planned, and that will hopefully appear sooner rather than later.
These changes must be tough to see for the former members of these congregations, but in many ways it feels like a sign of the times. Religious institutions are not inexpensive to run, with building upkeep being a challenge for congregations large and small. Especially for a church like Friendship Baptist, we have to imagine the heating and cooling costs were astronomical, not to mention deferred maintenance in a building dating back over a century, and that made staying in the building a major challenge. We will surely continue to see this phenomenon play out in the years to come in Point Breeze and in other neighborhoods, and we can only hope that the most attractive buildings will stick around rather than get demolished. Keeping two out of three of the old buildings at 18th & Wharton is certainly a win in that regard.