Our History

More than a century of community, personality, & history.

Since its construction of the corner of North 4th and Campbell streets in 1888, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church has been a spiritual, cultural, and community center for the Brooklyn neighborhood and beyond. Its 130-year story is filled with outstanding personalities and memorable moments that remain to this day a vital part of Wilmington’s remarkable history.

WRITTEN BY MATTHEW MARION, EDITED BY RICH LEDER
 
 

Origins 1817-1888

Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

An established group of Presbyterians has existed in Wilmington as far back as 1760, though there was no church to house them, because the law, at that time, disallowed the church to hold real estate. In 1785, Reverend William Bingham came to Wilmington to conduct monthly services for the congregation, and, during this time, the Presbyterian Church was incorporated into the Legislature of North Carolina, allowing it to purchase and hold property through trustees. This is the first official record of an organized Presbyterian congregation in Wilmington. It would be 32 years before there was a church to house them. Prior to the Revolutionary War, the Church of England discouraged the establishment of any and all other denominations. With the colonies' victory, these traditions fell apart.

In 1813, the newly formed Fayetteville Presbytery was assigned to cover Wilmington. The city's local congregation wished to form a connection immediately. In an address given to the new Presbytery on April 4, 1817, a document authored by Robert Cochran, chairman, and Alexander Anderson, secretary, portrayed the goals of Wilmington's Presbyterian group. In addition to the names above, 23 trustees would be appointed to oversee management for a “large and respectable number of citizens of Wilmington, who convened for the purpose of forming themselves into a Presbyterian congregation.”

The Presbytery resolved that the petition be granted and promised to aid the young congregation in any way they could. The acknowledgement by the Fayetteville Presbytery officially brought the First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington into existence in 1817, along South 3rd Street. A minister was quickly procured, allowing the church to begin service soon after its dedication, and the Presbyterians of Wilmington had their own house of worship.

America suffered through a harsh winter in 1857. Throughout the still-new country, trade and transportation transactions were delayed, creating financial stress for businesses up and down the coast. The spring brought some relief, but by the end of summer, businesses were collapsing at an alarming rate. Some banks refused to pay their promissory notes, while others suspended operations altogether, including 18 of New York City's leading banks. Many attributed the panic to a divine judgment, and, at the same time, religious groups were worried about a spiritual decline. These groups felt the younger generations were growing up without God, placing love of money above all things. The bank panic of 1857 led to the spiritual revival of 1858, which brought people back to the churches in large numbers. Wilmington was a part of this awakening.

In 1858, as part of the spiritual revival, a second Wilmington Presbyterian branch, or “colony” church, was erected on November 21 of the same year. The Second Presbyterian Church, located on Chestnut Street between 7th and 8th streets, began with 14 original charter members. Among those were Alexander and Jane Dalziel Sprunt (who later donated the carpeting for the North 4th Street church in 1888 and funded the building of the St. Andrew's annex, the North 4th Street school building, in 1910). The Sprunts had arrived in Wilmington six years prior (1852), and Alexander was already busy creating his future cotton empire, Sprunt & Son.

In 1862, when Second Presbyterian had achieved a membership of 38, an outbreak of yellow fever—and then the Civil War—forced the church to temporarily close its doors. During the war, Wilmington offered a strategic military location for the Confederate Army and served as one of their most important seaports, partly because it acted as a base for Blockade Runners, delivering much needed supplies to the Confederacy. It is believed that one of these small ships, arriving from the Bahamas, had several crewmembers that were infected with yellow fever. Poor sanitation and large amounts of stagnant water are now also believed to have contributed to the outbreak. Just before the outbreak, the city's population was estimated at 11,500. Many evacuated during the onset, and letters to military commanders stationed nearby depicted the city as a ghost town. Only about 4,000 people remained in Wilmington, with 1,500-1,600 cases of the fever. In the greater Wilmington area, the death total from the fever is now estimated to be 600, many of whom are buried in historic Oakdale Cemetery in Carolina Heights.

The colony congregation returned to the original house of worship on South 3rd Street, First Presbyterian in that same year, 1862.
In 1867, after the Civil War, Second Presbyterian was still closed and was sold to an African-American congregation, which became the Chestnut Street United Presbyterian Church, still in use today. After the sale, the Second Presbyterian congregation moved out of the South 3rd Street church and into Brooklyn Hall on North Fourth Street, to worship until land could be secured for a new, second branch church.

The search didn't take long. In 1872, with the help of Mr. Alexander Sprunt, property was purchased at the corner of North 4th and Campbell streets, at a cost of $1,500. One year later, on May 4, 1873, a new building was dedicated as the house of worship for Second Presbyterian. Later, it was converted to a lecture room, though it was used as a church until the decision was made, in 1888, to erect a new building. The decision came after a steady rise in membership, inspiring a proposition to expand upon the existing church. As more of the congregation joined in on the idea, a movement was formed to build a new church. They decided to name the building St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church through a two-thirds vote.

Adolphus Gustavus Bauer, know as A.G. Bauer, was selected as the architect and contractor of St. Andrew's. A promising young talent at the time, Bauer had already worked on the Old Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill. Details of that building show corner towers flanking a tall central window, with pointed gables above the side windows, foreshadowing his concept for the new church at 4th and Campbell.

On October 1, 1888, ground was broken and construction began on the new church. Fifteen days later, the corner stone was set.

 

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1889- 1944 Presbyterian Church

 
Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

St. Andrew's Presbyterian
1889- 1944

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was dedicated on June 9, 1889. Reverend Alexander Sprunt, (son of Alexander and Jane Dalziel Sprunt) gave the dedication sermon. A crowd of more than 900 attended the opening ceremony. People sat comfortably in cherry and crimson plush opera chairs, which added to the beauty and comfort of the new building. Mrs. Alexander Sprunt donated the carpets. Although there was some anxiety over the building's acoustics, the sound quality in the church was described then—as it is now—as perfect.

 

The church was and exists today as a large, gable-front, brick structure in the Victorian Gothic style, with asymmetrical corner towers flanking a tall, pointed arch containing four lancet windows and wheel window, with smaller windows at two levels between the central opening and the towers. A stone disk with the legend “St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – 1888” contained therein is centered in the lower portion of the gable. The buttressed side elevations are seven bays wide—including the corner towers, eastern transepts, and an entrance porch—and are centered along Campbell Street. The roofs are pierced on each side by two triangular louvered gables. Two of the stained glass windows in the church were given in memory of Jane Dalziel Sprunt and Julia Fillyaw. The windows were produced in Munich, Germany. A low pyramidal roof has replaced the original spire atop the northwest tower. The sanctuary seating capacity was estimated at 800 people, and the attached annex could hold 225.

Although there was some anxiety over the building's acoustics, the sound quality in the church was described then--as it is now--as perfect.

 

Church membership skyrocketed upon completion of the new church and the arrival of Reverend McClure in 1891. St. Andrew's became a spiritual beacon for the surrounding neighborhood, creating many organizations aimed at helping the community's unfortunate. The Church Aid Society, run by the women of St. Andrew's, worked hard at helping the poorest members of the congregation as well as at improving the church property, which needed constant upkeep to avoid damage. Another group, called the Circle of King's Daughters, donated time and service to the orphans' home. There was also a Ladies Foreign Missionary Society and a Children's Society called “Earnest Workers.”

In 1906, a new pipe organ, hand built by Henry Pilcher, of Louisville, Kentucky, was installed across the east wall of the sanctuary. The Andrew Carnegie Foundation and Wilmington businessman Thomas B. Bagley donated the organ to St. Andrew’s. The organ remained a contributing factor to the sanctuary's beauty until 1976, when it was moved to Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The Fourth Street church grew in 1910, when additions to the Sunday School behind the sanctuary were completed. The Memorial Hall Annex, as it was called, was donated by William H. Sprunt, in loving memory of his parents—Alexander Sprunt and Jane Dalziel Sprunt—and the founding charter members of the original Second Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. A. D. McClure, D. D. at his desk in the Manse, 1915 Photo Courtesy New Hanover Library, McClure Collection

The Rev. A. D. McClure, D. D.
at his desk in the Manse, 1915

Photo Courtesy New Hanover Library, McClure Collection

Reverend McClure served as pastor of St. Andrew's until his death in 1920, marking a time of a citywide mourning. His accomplishments in both his congregation and Wilmington were recognized in 1926, when William H. Sprunt donated funds to erect the McClure Memorial Presbyterian Church in the nearby Castle Hayne district. At the dedication for the new church, the congregation sang The Church's One Foundation, paying tribute to the support of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

By the late 1930s, the congregation on Fourth and Campbell streets began to feel distanced from the majority of the Presbyterians in Wilmington. Most of the congregation lived further away from the church, closer to Market and 15th streets, where The Church of the Covenant was already established.

St. Andrew's became a spiritual beacon for the surrounding neighborhood, creating many organizations aimed at helping the community's unfortunate.

The Church of the Covenant was conceived as early as 1902, when the ruling elders of First Presbyterian Church on South 3rd Street decided another branch was needed in the eastern part of the city. Land was purchased at the corner of 15th and Market streets in 1911, and by 1917 the cornerstone of the structure had been set. Most of the funds for the church's sanctuary were donated by a familiar St. Andrew's name—the Sprunt family. The church was dedicated in January of 1918, with Reverend McClure—among several other ministers—giving the opening sermons. By 1944, the distance between the congregations, coupled with the mounting repair costs for St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, persuaded the St. Andrew's congregation to merge with The Church of the Covenant, joining the two as St. Andrew's-Covenant Presbyterian Church.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was sold to a smaller congregation, and, so, the church building on Fourth and Campbell streets entered into a new era under a different name: The First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

 
 

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1944- 1964 Holiness Church

The First Pentecostal Holiness Church
1944- 1964

Original Wilmington First Pentecostal Holiness Church Congregation Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

Original Wilmington First Pentecostal Holiness Church Congregation
Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

In 1934, 10 years before St. Andrew's stopped serving the Presbyterians, a Reverend named W.H. Turner, who had just returned home from missionary work in China, was sent by the North Carolina Pentecostal Conference to establish a church in Wilmington.

Turner introduced the Pentecostals to Wilmington by holding tent revival services on South 3rd Street, the same street that was (and still is) home to the First Presbyterian Church. His sermons attracted a large enough flock that on August 26, 1934, the First Pentecostal Holiness Church was established. The tents were packed up when a damaging storm forced them to worship in a building on Castle Street.

The same conference that sent Turner to Wilmington also sent Reverend I.D. Dickens to the Port City one year later, and, in 1935, he became the Pentecostals' first full-time pastor. The newly formed congregation moved into a small, white-framed church on Parsley Street, between 3rd and 4th streets, in 1937. (This church still stands today, and has been relocated to Carolina Beach Road.) After several years, the congregation outgrew the small, white building and negotiations began with St. Andrew's to buy the 4th Street church.

The group moved into St. Andrew's on June 2, 1944. Rev. Dickens served as pastor for 11 years (1937-1948). Located behind the main church building, The Annex held national conferences for the Pentecostal Church. On February 13, 1949, the church followed in the footsteps of its Presbyterian predecessor and held its first radio show, broadcast over the local station, WGNI.

City Directory 1946 Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

City Directory 1946
Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

By 1952, the Pentecostals had not made any of the agreed-upon payments to St. Andrew's-Covenant. The slate roof was in need of significant, constant repair, straining the Pentecostal's funds with each incident. They were also in talks with a glass contractor to fix the stained-glass windows. By 1953, the congregation owed several thousand dollars to St. Andrew's. As an option to reduce some of their financial stress, the Pentecostals offered the Manse to the Presbyterian's. Part of the offer included trying to secure a loan from Carolina Building and Loan Company in order to pay for improved electrical and fire safety systems, which had both failed city codes. St. Andrew's-Covenant refused the deal.

“The Jolly Pastor,” Pentecostal Reverend Ralph R. Johnson, started a building fund on July 12, 1954, hoping to one day see the church create its own house of worship and rid itself of the mounting damages and debt the St. Andrew's building had burdened them with. When Johnson left in 1954, the church fund had not passed $700.

Reverend Bailey C. Lewis replaced Johnson in 1956. Lewis continued the building fund by obtaining deeds to a plot of land on Chestnut Street. Rev. Lewis was able to build the fund to an impressive $27,000. The next year, in 1957, after the church board agreed that the purchase of a more modern house of worship was necessary, the First Pentecostal Holiness Church put the St. Andrew's property up for sale. They moved out of St. Andrew's on August 4, 1957.

The Pentecostals moved temporarily to a firehouse on Fifth and Castle Streets until October 27, 1958, when they moved into their new—and current—location at the corner of 27th and Chestnut Streets.

Not everyone wanted to leave. A small group of 27 members elected to stay in the church, claiming “God would not have them to discard all time efforts and obligations on the church property.” This smaller group met with the NC Pentecostal Conference 20 days after the larger one left, and the Conference renamed the church Fourth Street Pentecostal Church.

Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

Photo Courtesy First Pentecostal Holiness Church

Reverend Glenn Bailey was sent to help reduce the payment still owed to St. Andrew's-Covenant and worked to repair the church's damages until the Conference met again in 1962. Bailey was replaced by Reverend Robert Brafford, who oversaw the departure of the last members of the Fourth Street Pentecostal Church and the moving into their new home at the corner of Wrightsville and Macmillan Streets. The Holy Trinity congregation bought the St. Andrew’s property in 1962.

Today, the larger party that moved to 27th and Chestnut Streets has retained the First Pentecostal Holiness name, while the smaller group changed its title to Winter Park Holiness, then later changed it again to Gateway Church.

 

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1964- 1997 Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church
1964- 1997

In 1965, the remaining church members were still struggling to manage the deteriorating condition of the building, which had occurred over tenures of the Presbyterian and Pentecostal churches. In 1972, after seven years and two pastors, the city of Wilmington listed the property at the corner of Fourth and Campbell streets as vacant. Holy Trinity and its followers were still worshiping, but not in the sanctuary. Because of extensive roof damage, the members retreated into the Annex behind the church.

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The bishop of the United Holy Church in Los Angeles sent a new reverend, R.M. Coley, to try and stabilize St. Andrew's, the building, and Holy Trinity, the congregation. Coley got to work right away, reaching out to the city for donations to help restore the church. Unfortunately for Coley and his flock, the donations didn't arrive as hoped. By 1981, the church had hired a contractor, a personal friend to the group, who offered to do the job at a discount. His hiring proved to be a costly mistake. The original slate roof was taken off all at once. Without the funds to build a completely new roof, only small sections could be replaced. This left a large hole in the roof, exposing the sanctuary to the elements outside. Months later, the contractor filed for bankruptcy, leaving Holy Trinity a bigger problem than they started with.

Three years later, in 1984, the congregation was still meeting in the Annex, as there was still no money to fund the renovations. As a result, the main sanctuary fell victim to vandalism. Several of the stained-glass windows decorating the sanctuary's walls were stolen, as well as were many other objects in the sanctuary that could be carried away. Dolores Halsey, then-financial manager of Holy Trinity, said at the time, “It's just really a shame. It was a beautiful place, and it's going to take a lot of time and effort to repair.” In 1985, a local antique dealer helped police recover two stolen 7-foot-by-3-foot stained-glass windows as well as an altar and some chairs.

The congregation decided they would still try and renovate the Annex. Reverend Charles Dingle, the minister of Holy Trinity at this time, began the renovations. Half of the renovation funds came from a loan by the Small Business Administration. Plans for the “new section” included a dining room, kitchen, and new bathrooms. They rewired the two-story section and replaced the plaster walls with drywall. Dingle hoped to eventually convert the space into a soup kitchen for the area's less fortunate.

St. Andrew's condition did not go unnoticed for much longer. At the same time Holy Trinity was trying to salvage the Annex, Edward Turberg, noted historian and then chairman of the Wilmington Historic District Commission, and Angela Barnett, then director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, raised interest in preserving and restoring St. Andrew's. Eleanor Haskett, a former member of the Presbyterian congregation that occupied the church from 1889-1944, commented on the church's appearance in the mid-80s: “It looked like a holocaust. It looked like it had been devastated by bombs—like England in WWII.”

By 1993, the final renovations of the Annex were abandoned. Holy Trinity's congregation had dwindled. With their numbers and church funds fading, the congregation agreed to join local and state officials in an effort to save the building.

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

Gene Merritt, the director of the North Fourth Street Partnership (NFSP), a nonprofit group aimed at funding projects in the Fourth Street area, attempted to make an offer to purchase the church. The partnership's offer included a promise to lease back the Annex to Holy Trinity—who had been worshipping there for 20 years (1974-1994). Switching the title of the property from religious to secular would allow government and private funding to help with renovations without violating constitutional law separating church and state. Merritt and the NFSP were the first to propose converting the church into an arts center.

On June 9, 1995, plans to rebuild were put on hold. During a severe thunderstorm, lightning struck St. Andrew's, gashing one of the brick walls. A windstorm several days later turned the gash into a large hole that reached the roof. Due to the increasingly poor conditions, city officials deemed the structure unsound. The congregation of Holy Trinity was forced out and started worshiping at Virgo Middle School. Before officially condemning the building, the city gave the congregation several months to bring the church up to code. Rejecting the NFSP's initial offer, Holy Trinity told the nonprofit group they would rather trade St. Andrew's for a plot of land on which they could build a new church. Merritt and the Partnership gave another price for the building and were turned down again by Holy Trinity.

The city had to barricade the sidewalk on the Campbell Street side to protect local residents from falling brick. Prospective buyers with new ideas began coming to the city, hoping to make a deal for the church. On June 4, 1996, representatives from Wilmington Housing and Finance Development, F.A. Johnson Consulting Group, the Holy Trinity Church, and the NFSP met to bring an offer to the city council. The council members had delayed voting on the condemnation two months prior and had voted to a draw in May. Mounting interest in the church brought hope to the city that something significant could be done for St. Andrew's. The groups proposed an idea to convert the entire church into housing, which they believed to be the easiest to fund—thanks to federal housing grants and tax credits. The plan was to renovate the sanctuary into two stories of housing with a central open courtyard, and an elevator that would run in the bell tower.

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

The groups planning to renovate the building sent surveyors from the City of Wilmington to assess renovation costs. After the lightning strike, Hurricane Fran (which blew in the front wall and destroyed the roof in 1996), and decades of exposure to the elements, the church's full renovation was estimated at more than $1.4 million. The city council decided the price was too high to repair the building, and, on August 8, 1996, they planned to hear offers for contractors to demolish the church. An offer to immediately stabilize St. Andrew's was the only alternative.

Help finally arrived a month later in the form of W. Douglas Foster, a businessman from Charlotte, NC. Foster offered to put up the funds to stabilize the walls and roof, bringing the building code up to standard with the city's requirements. His offer required the city to use the funds slated for demolition to help with renovation of St. Andrew's, and the city agreed. Two days after Foster's donation, the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was put on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

In the fall of 1996, the Downtown Area Revitalization Effort (DARE), North Fourth Street Partnership (NFSP), the Historic Wilmington Foundation, and city government came together to review proposals for the property. Good Shepherd Ministries, a local nonprofit committed to helping the poor and homeless of Wilmington, offered a proposal to convert the church into a homeless shelter. The committee ultimately turned that proposal down after protests from many Fourth Street business owners who believed an arts center, not a homeless shelter, would be the boost to revitalization the neighborhood needed. Additionally, Good Shepherd Ministries couldn't match the funds required for renovations.

Even without Good Shepherd, the homeless community in the Wilmington area played a part in the renovation. Many were hired on as part of the construction crew for the stabilization, a project that helped these men gain valuable craft experience in brickwork, repairing stained glass, and refinishing woodwork.

Holy Trinity's ownership of the church ended in 1997, after 35 years of occupancy, when Foster bought out the congregation. Foster's donated funds helped save St. Andrew's from destruction and gave local organization's new hope in converting the church into an arts center the community could be proud of.

 

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1998 The Brooklyn Arts Center

1998 To The Brooklyn Arts Center

Contruction workers surveying St. Andrew's in 1999 after destruction caused by Hurricanes Bertha, Fran, and Bonnie Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

Contruction workers surveying St. Andrew's in 1999 after destruction caused by Hurricanes Bertha, Fran, and Bonnie
Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

As per their agreement, the City of Wilmington needed to re-pay Douglas Foster. His donated funds were meant to stabilize the walls and roof, not pay for the full renovation. In order to repay him, the city needed to find funds they did not have.

In 1996, Hurricanes Bertha and Fran had blown in the front wall of the church, causing the roof to cave-in completely. As a result of the damage caused by the hurricanes—to the church and to many other structures in Wilmington—the city applied for federal disaster relief funds. St. Andrew's could only receive a fraction of the larger sum awarded to Wilmington. (In the Brooklyn neighborhood, most of the money was spent repairing the sewer main.)

Another source of funds turned out to be the city's Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). The CDBG, one of the longest running programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides communities with annual grants to help address unique community development needs.

"Construction work continues on a new steel beam roof at the old St. Andrew's Church on North Fourth Street despite additional damage caused by Hurricane Bonnie." -Star News, September 1998 Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

"Construction work continues on a new steel beam roof at the old St. Andrew's Church on North Fourth Street despite additional damage caused by Hurricane Bonnie." -Star News, September 1998
Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

On April 9, 1998, the city council voted to use the CDBG funds to repay Foster and purchase the church—with the understanding they would have to refund the city coffers the amount of CDBG funds they spent, because there were many people who would have rather seen the money go to a cause directly influencing the homeless and more run-down areas in the neighborhood. The City of Wilmington claimed that St. Andrew's qualified for funding because the improvements benefited a dilapidated building in a targeted low-to moderate-income area. The persisting debate over the council's decision persuaded them to rescind the vote until they had discussed the matter extensively.

A few weeks later, in the spring of 1998, the city council voted again to go through with the purchase of St. Andrew's using the CDBG funds. As a result, protective covenants were placed on the structure to protect the landmark from future demolition. The city's main concern now was to pay back the funds used to buy the church. The Historic Wilmington Foundation agreed to handle the process of finding a group interested in purchasing the building. The Foundation released a mission statement in September 1998, explaining to prospective buyers (and the community) how St. Andrew's was to be used: “The building will be used to benefit the whole neighborhood, promote the cultural history and diversity of Wilmington and support the physical and economic revitalization of the North Fourth Street Area.”

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Libary

By December 2001, days after the exterior supports—used to hold up the walls of the church for two years, and replaced by a steel superstructure—were taken down, the city had five proposals from groups interested in buying St. Andrew's. Three of the groups wanted to convert the church into a low-income housing development. A couple of the plans for their renovation included turning the sanctuary into a two-to-three-story apartment building.

The remaining two proposals wanted to utilize the church as an arts center. David Nathans, owner of Urban Building Corp., and Gene Merritt, former president of the North Fourth Street Partnership submitted the last of these proposals. Nathans and Merritt hoped to turn the church into a nonprofit, multi-purpose, arts and entertainment facility. They also wanted to publicly raise the money to renovate the building. On September 4, 2002, the city selected Nathans and Merritt's proposal to rehabilitate St. Andrew's. The deal included not just the church, but both the adjacent Manse and firehouse across Campbell Street.

The building will be used to benefit the whole neighborhood, promote the cultural history and diversity of Wilmington and support the physical and economic revitalization of the North Fourth Street Area.

Nathans would soon be alone at the head of the project, with Merritt deciding to step down and act as head of a board of directors that would help Nathans oversee the renovation. There were three planned phases for the project. The first phase was to renovate the old firehouse. Formerly a boxing center, the building was turned into a training center for the police department. The special investigations unit was also stationed there (before the police department had their new headquarters constructed in 2006). The second phase focused on the Manse. Using private financing, Nathans was able to create a duplex office complex while maintaining the house's historical integrity.

The third and final phase involved the church. Funds to renovate the church were extremely difficult to obtain. Nathans and the board of directors applied for grants and fundraiser, but there were many other projects the city was focused on: Thalian Hall, the new USO building, and the Children's Museum to mention a few.

Unable to raise the necessary funds, the board of directors grew disinterested and, by the summer of 2008, they disbanded. Nathans was forced to tell the city that he was unable to publicly raise the money and he withdrew from the project. The city allowed several former board members to take over the building after Nathans withdrew. This group also disbanded when it couldn't raise the money and appealed to the city to sell the building for the formation of a new arts council. The city agreed, and St. Andrew's was put on the market.

Located in the Manse, Nathans' office was next door to the property. St. Andrew's had been on the market for more than a year, with no prospective buyers. In search of a new project, Nathans went back to the city to make an offer. The city accepted, and, through private financing, Nathans was able to purchase the property and create the Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrew's.

“In 1888, when it was being built, it was a big deal. It was really well built, expensive, and exotic in terms of material content,” Nathans says. Sticking to his original proposal of turning St. Andrew's into an arts and entertainment center, Nathans and others worked to renovate the church, keeping it as close to its original appearance as possible. After decades of neglect and several hurricanes, the balcony above the sanctuary had caved-in. Using original measurements, Nathans and his team, including superintendent Arthur Seabury III, were able to restore the balcony to its original appearance, so much so that the original railings fit perfectly. “We didn't have any interest in changing anything,” Nathans said. “We kept it as intact as possible while allowing for our purposes as well.”

Artist's rendering of The Brooklyn Arts Center church building and manse printed in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, August 2004. "When complete, the local landmark will serve as a multi-cultural entertainment center and hall for special functions." Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

Artist's rendering of The Brooklyn Arts Center church building and manse
printed in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, August 2004.

"When complete, the local landmark will serve as a multi-cultural entertainment center and hall for special functions."
Photo Courtesy New Hanover County Public Library

The Brooklyn Arts Center church and manse as it stands today (photo taken in 2011). Photo Courtesy Windy Peak Photography

The Brooklyn Arts Center church and manse as it stands today (photo taken in 2011).
Photo Courtesy Windy Peak Photography

Two years of renovation was needed to complete the church's transformation, and, on March 25, 2011, the Brooklyn Arts Center was granted its certificate of occupancy. Under the direction of Executive Director, Richard Leder, the BAC uses the space for weddings, concerts, fundraisers, art shows, vintage flea markets, and other community-driven events. “I think it's a great thing for the neighborhood,” Nathans says. “Our neighbors are happy. They're thrilled someone finally did something about this building. And we're proud and honored to have helped give new life to this important and historic piece of Wilmington.”

The majestic, circa 1888 St. Andrew's Church is Wilmington’s finest example of the urban, neomedieval auditorium churches constructed across the country by long-standing evangelical Christian denominations in the last decades of the 19th century. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian’s integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association mark it as a significant historical, architectural, and cultural icon for the neighborhood, the city, and the region.

 

Credits

This piece would not have been possible without the excellent and generous assistance and research of the following:

Joe Shepherd and the New Hanover County Public Library

First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington

Wilmington First Pentecostal Holiness Church

David Jones and St. Andrew's-Covenant Presbyterian Church

Edward F. Turberg

David Nathans and the Brooklyn Arts Center

Jim D. Bresson and the Tar Heel Junior Historian

Steve Case and Lisa Gregory

The Cape Fear Historical Society

The Wilmington Morning Star (now The Star News)

William B. Bushong and Catherine W. Bishir

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

Many thanks to all of you!