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First Church of Christ, Scientist – A Holy Transformation

On the north east corner of River Avenue and Nassau Street in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village sits a stately building reminiscent of a Greek temple. It was originally built as a place of worship, but not for the likes of Zeus or Athena. It was the burgeoning First Church of Christ, Scientist who erected the building, a grand church designed to accommodate a large flock. But in time the First Church of Christ, Scientist left the building and it’s fate seemed doomed as a Greek tragedy. But fate smiled kindly on the church, with new owners finding creative ways to make the heritage building shine bright again.

Mary Baker Eddy was born in 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire, to a family of devout Congregationalists. Although she was interested in religion from a young age and studied the Bible, Eddy was unappeased by the Calvinist doctrine imposed on her, always in search of something more. At 45, Eddy slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk, leaving her badly injured and bedridden. With no family for support during her time of need, Eddy turned to the Bible, reading a story about healing. Upon her reading of the Bible, Eddy suddenly found herself well again and filled with conviction that the Bible was the source of her healing. This belief lead to nine years of study to uncover the science behind spiritual healing, which she explained in her 1875 book, Science and Health.

Eddy went on to teach many about her system of healing, eventually founding the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. But Christian churches disappointed her once again, having no interest in her work. In 1879 Eddy took matters into her own hands and founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, becoming a teacher, author and preacher at a time when women were afforded little power or influence. As her popularity grew, so too did the controversy surrounding her practices. Eddy persevered through the opposition and continued to grow her church until her death in 1910.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
Source: Library of Congress and Encyclopedia Britannica
Three years before Eddy’s passing, plans began for the construction of a church for Eddy’s followers in Winnipeg at 511 River Avenue. To be built in two phases, construction started in 1910. The first phase of the building, a basement and first floor, opened in 1911, built in the shape of a Greek cross. In 1915 construction of a second story began, this time an auditorium with soaring ceilings. A grand dome was to crown the second story, but was substituted with a more affordable leaded glass dome in the roof of the auditorium, which was built to accommodate 1060 people in mahogany pews. The interior of the church was also outfitted with four grand staircases and green carpeting. The second phase of construction was completed in 1916, with the two phases costing a total of $100,000.

The original plans for the First Church of Christ, Scientist
in Winnipeg called for a large dome atop the building.
Source: Archiseek
The Church of Christ, Scientist in Winnipeg, as it was originally built.
Source: Century 21 Bachman & Associates
The Winnipeg architecture firm of Jordan & Over designed the beaux-arts style church. Walter Percy Over was an architect from Toronto, moving to Winnipeg to lead the firm of Darling & Pearson from 1902 to 1906, (at which time it was called Darling, Pearson & Over). Lewis H. Jordan was a New York born architect who moved to Canada around 1905, stepping in as manager of the Winnipeg branch of Darling & Pearson the same year that Over departed. In 1910, the two architects joined forced and opened their own firm in Winnipeg, Jordan & Over. The new firm went on to design many buildings including banks, churches, apartment blocks and two churches for the First Church of Christ, Scientist (one in Virden, Manitoba and the other in Winnipeg). Both were also elected as President of the Manitoba Association of Architects for various terms.

The Alloway and Champion Bank at 362 Main Street in Winnipeg (the small building on the right)
was designed by the firm Jordan & Over, completed in 1913.
Source: City of Winnipeg and Archives of Manitoba
The facade of Jordan & OVer's Alloway and Champion Bank was moved to the Forks in 2015.
Commemorating millionaire banker William Fordes Alloway,
who's $100,000 donation helped established the Winnipeg Foundation,
the first community foundation in Canada.
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Over the years the leaded glass dome was removed from the church and the parishioners moved out. Ben Haber and Steve Freed purchased the building in 2004, with the intention of converting it into condominiums. But they found the building to be full of mold, asbestos and airborne spores, requiring the removal nearly the entire interior at a cost of over $700,000. With climbing costs, the condominium project was deemed financially unfeasible and the owners instead decided to demolish the church.

The City of Winnipeg and Heritage Winnipeg disagreed with the owners assessment of the church and purposed listing it as a heritage resource in place of issuing a demolition permit. Although advocates rallied for the designation of the building, it was not listed as a heritage resource, being placed on the commemorative list, which recognizes the historic value but does not prevent demolition. Despite this weak recognition, the church did manage to avoid demolition. It sat empty until 2008 when Giovanni Geremia and Brian Wall (of gw architecture) came to its rescue. Geremia and Wall partnered with Stonebridge Development Group to buy the church and convert it into condominiums. Recognizing the importance historic of the building to the community and considering the negative environmental impact of demolition, redevelopment was the only option considered by the new owners of the church.

A sketch of the facade of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, prior to redevelopment.
Source: Prairie Architects 
After three months of consultation with the community, stakeholders and the city, the new plan for the church included five floors, 46 one bedroom units (500 to 900 square feet), additional windows, balconies, bike storage and three car share vehicles. Although efforts were made to save various features of the original interior, in the end the church was completely gutted aside from a space on the fifth floor. Due to code restrictions, only part of the fifth floor could be used as a loft space with the inaccessible portion being left as a repository of the past.

An effort was made to save the organ screen and reuse it in the lobby,
but brittle plaster and hazardous material made the effort futile.
Source: Century 21 Bachman & Associates
Four years after construction started, Studio 511 opened in 2013. With mortgage payments in line with the cost of renting in the area, all the units in the church quickly sold. Heritage Winnipeg recognized the contribution of the owners in conserving an historical neighbourhood landmark, honouring Stonebridge Development Group and gw architecture with the Heritage Winnipeg Special President’s Award for Studio 511 in 2014. The First Church of Christ, Scientist is an excellent example of how built heritage can be successfully repurposed in a profitable fashion while taking into consideration the needs of the community and environment. From the past we can forge a beautiful future, filled with creative solutions and no need for demolition.

The renovated First Church of Christ, Scientist as Studio 511 in July 2017.
Source: Google Maps

Read more about the renovation of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

SOURCES:

Appraisal Institute of Canada
aicexchange.ca/adaptive-re-use-of-an-historic-church-structure/

Archiseek
archiseek.com/2010/1916-first-church-of-christ-scientist-winnipeg-manitoba/

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada
dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/183
dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/133

Century 21 Bachman & Associates
www.century21.ca/bachmanassociates/blog/PRAYER_TO_FLARE_A_condo_conversion_in_the_heart_of_Osborne_295699

City of Winnipeg
www.winnipeg.ca/PPD/Documents/Heritage/ListHistoricalResources/Main667-long.pdf
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/Heritage/ListCommemorativeResources.stm
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/Heritage/MunicipallyDesignatedSites.stm#3

Encyclopedia Britannica
www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Baker-Eddy
gw architecture
www.gwarchitectureinc.com/single-post/1A16EE5C-1427-4968-9496-63F4EF3D5E4C

Google Maps
www.google.ca/maps/place/511+River+Ave,+Winnipeg,+MB+R3L+0C9/@49.8782682,-97.1492268,3a,75y,15.81h,104.39t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sR-pu6ooTom0IdsADnZazWg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x52ea7400dd8b8439:0xaf5d4b78f9bf8a37!8m2!3d49.878583!4d-97.149198

Heritage Winnipeg
www.heritagewinnipeg.com/blog.html?item=144

Mary Baker Eddy Library
www.marybakereddylibrary.org/mary-baker-eddy/the-life-of-mary-baker-eddy/

Prairie Architects
Church of Christ, Scientist Community Consultation from September 2000

Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Alloway-Arch-unveiled-at-The-Forks-to-celebrate-community-foundations-329984791.html
When a heritage church doesn't have a prayer by David O’Brian on February 21, 2008
Panel trying to save church by Joe Paraskevas on February 20, 2008

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