New Jersey’s second-largest city is no stranger to historic religious buildings and a Downtown church that was built almost 135 years ago could soon undergo a revitalization that will add apartments and restore the property to its former glory.
The North Baptist Church at 598 Jersey Avenue has roots that go back to the Civil War era. The outpost was founded in 1865 after a growing local congregation purchased four lots on the corner of Fourth Street and Jersey Avenue to expand their presence in the community.
A wooden church was constructed in a short time while the group raised funds for the present building, which has stood at the lot since 1886. Many of the structure’s historical details remain intact to this day, although a steeple on top of the bell tower was removed at some point.
A significant portion of the property along Fourth Street was lost in a fire during 1978, but the building was partially renovated and reopened in 1985 as the North Baptist Spanish Church. It currently offers bilingual services, which have shifted to a virtual model during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A law firm representing the congregation submitted an application to revamp the property in January and the proposal would keep the religious legacy intact. Drawn up by Union City-based firm Pereiras Architects Ubiquitous, the proposal includes the complete restoration of the building’s façade plus an interior chapel alteration to include a meeting room and an office.
The second component would involve additional exterior restoration and the construction of a new multi-family building within the existing church façade. The buildout would have the effect of creating a uniform five-story building that rises 70 feet at its highest point, which would continue to be the church’s bell tower.
The 16 living spaces to make up the new portion would consist of one studio, five one-bedroom units, seven two-bedroom apartments, and three three-bedroom spaces. It is unclear if the residential component is intended as condominiums or rentals, but the application states that none of the units would be designated as affordable housing.
No parking is included in the proposed project, which will be requesting variances for use, density, and bulk from the city’s zoning board. There is not a set date in terms of when it will go before the board at this time.