The article below was originally posted by the Baltimore Business Journal and written by Melody Simmons. The original article and additional photos can be found here.
A buried time capsule. Colorful stained glass windows. A wood-encrusted sanctuary, mysterious locked safe and a small interior window for a movie projector’s lens.
All are among he treasures found in the stately former St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mount Washington during excavation and redevelopment of the building to convert it from a sanctuary to office space.
The work is part of a trend to repurpose vacated churches into residential, retail and office space. One such project is located near Patterson Park where the former St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church at 1900 E. Lombard St. is soon to reopen as the Ministry of Brewing — a brewery, pub and restaurant.
In North Baltimore, the former St. John’s Episcopal Church had been vacant for about a decade. But in four months, it will reopen after a $5 million re-do as the new headquarters for Warschawski, a local advertising and public relations firm.
David Warschawski, the firm’s founder and owner, purchased the 18,000-square-foot red-brick church and parish house on South Road at the Kelly Avenue Bridge from Blue Ocean Realty last year in a private deal for an undisclosed price. Blue Ocean acquired the church in December 2017 for $620,000, state records show.
Warschawski, SM+P Architects and John C. Porter Construction have since focused on turning the 18,000-square-foot space with all of its nooks and crannies into modern offices. The old church will soon have a modern kitchen and conference room where the altar once stood and an executive office for Warschawski in the old choir loft. A new video and photography studio is being installed in the old social hall.
“This was a shell that needed a lot of love,” Warschawski said, on a tour this week.
John Porter, president of John C. Porter Construction, said Wednesday he was a former parishioner at St. John. The church opened in 1928 and has served as a gateway to Mount Washington since.
“It’s iconic to me,” he said. “We want to maintain the historic structure. It’s a great old building. I want to see it preserved.”
For Porter, the work has held some serendipity. He discovered an etching in a stained glass window in the social hall that showed it was was dedicated by his great grandfather. Warschawski gifted the window back to Porter’s family.
Porter’s mission is to convert the former sanctuary into a bustling hub with a series of small offices being installed this month where rows of pews once seated 300 worshippers.
He is adding in a glass-enclosed reception area near the front door facing the Kelly Avenue Bridge and large windows have replaced the church’s stained glass in the sanctuary to allow in natural light. The windows have been donated to a church being built in Nicaragua.
Warschawski pointed to some of the endearing character of the church that will remain: Decorative and ornate wall paintings, a brick archway over the former altar space, arched trusses in the former sanctuary and unique woodwork. He showed off a large rope that will extend into the new conference room from the bell tower.
“We plan to ring it when we get a new business account,” he said. “Wherever we can, we’re trying to incorporate the use of old elements.”
Other updates include a new slate roof, electrical and HVAC system, plumbing and the addition of an elevator.
The time capsule found buried in the front yard of the church was too damaged to decipher and an old safe found in social hall has yet to be opened.
“We think this will be one of the coolest, most beautiful spaces in Baltimore,” Warschawski said.