Stained glass Jesus Stay Church is converted into apartments

By SARAH ELLIS, The State

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — Columbia’s old Rosewood Baptist Church may never look like a church.

When residents move into modern new homes at the 50-year-old sanctuary this fall, they will place their dining tables under 40-foot arched windows that were once filled with stained glass. Its decor is flanked by the dark oak paneling of the old church; some will have the white-painted concrete block walls of the former Sunday school classrooms. Someone’s sitting room will sit roughly on the footprint of what used to be the baptismal font.

And one unique apartment will feature a 20ft high stained glass mosaic of Jesus Christ with arms and hands outstretched. (A local construction worker cheekily referred to the apartment as the “Jesus Suite.”)

The unmistakable church tower towers over everything.

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“During design, one of the first things we talked about was the steeple,” said Frank Cason, whose Columbia development group is conducting the church’s transformation along with architects Garvin Design Group and Boyer Construction at the corner of Sloan Street and Rosewood Journey. “I was . . . inclined to, shall we take this off? And our architect said it will always be a church. It will always be read like a church. why would you take that off That will not make it any less of a church.”

So they kept the steeple.

The apartments, dubbed 5th and Sloan, are evolving into a carefully considered mix of old and new; Even the name of the complex under construction is an ode to the historical name Rosewood Drive, 5th Avenue.

The apartments also represent, possibly for the first time in Colombia, the transformation of a traditional church sanctuary into something other than a church. It’s a transition that’s happened in other places — for example, the current Church and Union restaurant in downtown Charleston, not to mention apartments, gyms, breweries, skate parks, and a host of other new uses for churches, usually in places further along outside the Bible Belt. But it’s still a novel concept in a region traditionally known for a multitude of churches around every corner, figuratively (and sometimes literally).

In many ways, the conversion of the church into apartments represents a bridge between the past and the future of this place in Colombia. And it’s still a nod to a church community that hasn’t disappeared, but occupies a smaller space further down the Rosewood corridor has settled as the community has shrunk in recent years.

Cason jumped at the opportunity to undertake the transformative project almost as soon as the church building hit the market in 2019, believing the structure could be saved and repurposed. Some people in the community thought it would be converted into a brewery, while others couldn’t believe Cason would even consider touching the sanctuary, the developer said.

Since work began on the site last October, deciding what details can and should be preserved as construction progresses has been an almost daily task, Cason said.

“The big challenge is … it’s a new use for the structure while maintaining the fact that there was a church and we don’t want to hide that and we don’t want to lose that,” Cason said. “That’s part of the charm.”

As a city, Colombia attaches great importance to the preservation of monuments. And while the rosewood church building itself has no historical designation, the structure and the community it once filled hold “meaningfulness” to the surrounding community, Cason said.

“It can be cheaper to tear things down and start over,” the developer acknowledged. “There is a place to tear down and a place to keep. Just because a building is old doesn’t mean it should be preserved, and just because it would be easier to demolish doesn’t mean it should be. … So we want to have historic properties where you can blend them with something new; you can complement them.”

The 49 apartments at 5th and Sloan are expected to open to residents in October. A mix of one and two bedroom units, some two stories high, will be spread across the former sanctuary, classroom building and a newly constructed building in between. The complex will include a fitness center, residents’ lounge and courtyard, and several apartments will have exterior balconies. Rents range from $1,425 to $2,400.

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