Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First African New Church, 10th and V Streets, NW

First African New Church, about 1930.
Ever made a cool $1.1 million in a year flipping a property without doing anything to it?  The owner of this abandoned church building did in 2002.  DCMud blog did a recent update on plans for the building here

The large vacant church structure at 2105-2107 10th Street is significant both for its architectural history, having been designed by well known architect Paul J. Peltz, and for its social history, as a structure and site that has been continually occupied and owned by an African American religious congregation from 1879 to 2002.      
Its current building has evolved from a major addition and substantial alteration in 1896 to an existing, one story brick building that had been constructed without a building permit sometime between 1887 and 1895.  In 1896, it was significantly expanded by its congregation with the addition of a large sanctuary on the third floor and a large corner tower, designed by well-known architect Paul J. Pelz, creating the church building that remains to this date.            

The adjacent corner lot at 10th and V Streets was the site of a wood frame church for many years prior to the brick one story church building that formed the basis for the structure that remains today.  Its origins can be traced to the northwest corner of Vermont and T Streets, in 1878, when the Abyssinian Baptist Church was first listed in the City Directory.  At the time, Reverend Henry Bailey was in charge of the small congregation that worshiped there in a one story, frame building.  Bailey lived at 1818 Vermont Avenue, and the year later at 1814 Vermont Avenue. 

However, on March 14, 1879, the Abyssinian Baptist Church obtained a permit to move their building to the “corner of 10th and V Street, NW.”  The cost of this move was estimated at $50.  It is assumed that the church moved its church due to the increase of land value at Vermont and T Streets, as several large homes were constructed that year and the year prior across the street, and to gain a larger lot at 10th and V.  Early maps show the new location of the frame church resting directly on the corner of 10th and V Streets.  Its congregation stemmed from freed slaves, black Washington residents, and Civil War soldiers and their dependants that had been stationed at nearby Fort Campbell at 6th and Florida Avenue.               

The church as an active worship site
Along with the move came a name change for the church, and possibly new ownership.  The 1881 City Directory lists the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church at 10th and V Street, N.W.  It was organized in 1880.  The pastor in attendance was listed as Reverend Peter C. Louis.  Services were held at 11 am and 7:30 pm, with Sunday school at 3 pm.  City Directories classify the church as “Methodist Episcopal-Colored.”  Trinity would remain at the 10th street address until 1892 when the church was renamed “Zion.”  On March 28, 1882, the church obtained a permit to “repair building where damaged by fire.”  Washington DC Fire Department records indicate that a fire had occurred on January 30, 1882 that had caused an estimated damage of $250.     

An 1887 Baist map shows the square-shaped, wood frame building at the corner of 10th and V Street, with a vacant rear yard facing the Union Court alley (where the present day, brick church structure stands today).  Sometime between 1887 and 1896, a one story, brick church building was erected at the rear of the lot, apparently without a building permit.  It is likely that the older wood frame building was no longer viable for maintenance, and a replacement building constructed at the rear of the lots, facing 10th Street, while the congregation continued to worship in the older structure.  The brick, one story building was mentioned in an expansion permit dated 1896, when the church was significantly added onto to create what is the present day building.                

Funeral notice found in church building
City Directories indicate a change in name beginning in 1892 from Trinity Methodist to Zion Church.  The Zion Church had been organized in 1883 by Reverend Peter C. Louis, the same pastor as Trinity, according to the 1892 City Directory.  Reverend Louis lived close-by at 2100 Vermont Avenue and he provided services from 11 to 7:30 pm.  Sunday School was held at 3 in the afternoon.  The church remained classified as “Methodist Episcopal-Colored” and named “Zion” through 1894.

            In 1894, the church changed ownership again, this time to the “First Colored Society of New Jerusalem.”  By 1896, however, the church had changed ownership again, this time to the First African New Church Society, which listed their address as “10th c V NW” in the year city directories, which classified the church as “Swedenborgian-Colored” in the church directory.  That organization obtained a permit dated January 15, 1896 to significantly expand a pre-existing brick structure on the site.

They hired architect Paul J. Pelz to design an upper floor atop an existing brick structure and to design a corner tower.  The alteration resulted in the form of the church building seen today, and serves to explain the presence of a large sanctuary on the raised, second floor, as well as a far more grand and carefully designed larger sanctuary on the top floor of the building.  The cost of the addition was estimated at $6,500.  In 1873, Pelz and John L. Smithmeyer, another Washington architect, won a competition for the design of the Library of Congress that established them as major architects of the era.    

2000 Photograph copyright PKW
The First African New Church Society continued to utilize the newly configured structure from the time it was altered in 1896, when the City Directory revealed that it housed the “New Jerusalem Church.”  New Jerusalem had been founded in 1896, though several City Directories claim earlier dates.  On May 4, 1905, the church was purchased by the People’s Seventh Day Adventist Church for $10,000.  It is interesting to note that the New Jerusalem Church at 2107 10th Street changes its listing from “Swedenborgian-Colored” to “Colored-Seventh Day” just before the sale in 1905. 

            The Peoples Seventh Day Adventist Church had been organized in 1903 by Reverend Lewis C. Sheafe.  Just prior to moving into 2105-2107 10th Street, his congregation met at The United Order of True Reformers Building close by at 1200 U Street. 

1887 Hopkins Map
            It was later renamed “Peoples Seventh Day Baptist Church” beginning in the early 1930s, and slightly altered in 1937 to become the “Peoples Seventh Day Baptist Independent Church.” 

            Interestingly, a permit dated July 7, 1921 indicates that the church desired to build an outside meeting space “to be a permanent, open, one story pavilion, to conduct religious services” on the empty lot to the south that had been formerly occupied by the one story frame church.  The cost of the structure was estimated at $2,300.  It had been designed by architect John B. Tyrrell.        

Main Sanctuary photographed in 2000

            The 1943 City Directory shows the names of more than one congregation practicing at 2101-07 10th Street N.W.  They included People's Seventh Day Baptist Independent Church, Temple Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Apostolic Church, and Rising Star Baptist Church. 

            The church changed to Morning Bright Baptist Church in 1964, but is registered as “Vacant” in 1970, shortly after racial riots devastated the neighborhood and many other parts of Washington.  Envelopes found at the church reveal the name “True Deliverance Church of God” at the location in 1971, with Pastor Rev. Albert Venson.  At the time, the church functioned as a center for clothing distribution to the homeless.  The church building itself apparently does not reopen for services until 1982. 

            Pentecost Baptist Church becomes the new name and is led by Reverend Howard Walter Scott and his mother, Reverend Thelma W. Scott.  The church was abandoned for the last time between 1992 and 1993.  It was then purchased and secured by Peter Means, but has since remained vacant and deteriorating, having been owned by several developers since.  It was designated a DC Landmark as a result of the efforts of the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association. 

Interior, 2000.
            CSNA learned that the church had been purchased on October 31, 2002 from a Mr. Giles, who had been determined to be the last surviving congregation member of the Peoples Seventh Day Adventist Church, the structure’s owner.  Apparently, his ownership claim was news to him, as the church had disbanded fifteen years prior, but had long ago begun to rent the facility to a wide variety of churches under many names.  According to records in the Recorder of Deed’s offices, the new owners were Joyce Silverstang and Union Court Development, LLC, who paid just $177,500 for the three-story structure and adjoining vacant lot at the northeast corner of 10th and V Street, N.W. 
I first began researching the church for developer Peter Means in the late 1990s.  When it was threatened with demolition with new owners in February of 2003, I surprised myself by producing a 24 page DC Landmark nomination in just over 36 hours that included 124 years of its history and 30 photographs of current and vintage shots for CSNA; its president delivered the emergency nomination via his Vespa. 

Today the church structure is owned by the Sorg architectural firm, who bought it in 2003 for $1.3 million: just a year after, and with no improvements, it had been sold for a mere $177,500.    

Photographs and Text Copyright Paul K. Williams


bryandc said...

a brilliant and exciting story!

Unknown said...

Do you have anymore information of the church during the time it was Peoples Seventh-day Adventist Church? Any more pictures?

HouseHistoryMan said...

That's about all we could find...the small African American churches tended to come and go, and move around a lot. I doubt their archives ended up anywhere. The last church to occupy the structure simply left all their archives in the church, which were promptly ruined by vandals and rain...

Anonymous said...

Did you miss a transaction .. I believe it was aquired by someone prior to the Sorg folks.

Anonymous said...

I love the old story or history like this. Does it survive now?
Maybe less people know anything about Africa. One of their place is called horn of africa

Anonymous said...

Trinity A.M.E. Zion church moved to 627 Park rd in 1944, then relocated to it's current location in the 3500 blk of 16th st. N.W.