An Inside Look at the Church Conversion Underway in Downtown Jersey City

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In collaboration with Dixon Projects, we’re chronicling the residential conversion of Downtown Jersey City’s historic and architecturally significant Scotch Presbyterian Church.

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Interior photo of the parsonage, near completion.

Today, we revisit Dixon Projects’ residential conversion of Jersey City’s Bethesda Baptist Church as the resurrection continues at 158-162 Mercer Street. Once a lively place of worship, the gothic revival style church fell victim to a devastating fire in 2007, leaving behind a completely charred interior while its exterior remained reminiscent of its original build.


Fully prepared to undertake a massive residential overhaul, Dixon Projects has been working to build 10 luxury residential units throughout the church and its neighboring parsonage.

Coordinating closely with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), the team has focused on mirroring the church’s origins from the exterior, and breathing new life from within.


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The Dixon Projects team on site.

Project Manager, Brian Fahy, provided us with the latest update on the project’s progression as it continues to take shape, “We’re in the rough-in stages now. It’s the first major step in setting up the plumbing and electric throughout the building, and finalizing placements for hardware. After a series of careful inspections, we’ll move on to install the insulation and drywall. By then, we’ll be able to tie in light fixtures, plumbing hardware, and anything else that you’d normally see when you walk into a home.”

In regards to the church itself, the team expects the wall frames to close up in the coming months, and with the help of professional renderings, the design concept looks clearer by the day.

Director of Interior Design, Rachel Wolff, described the design concept as “transitional” noting, “The interior isn’t as traditional as you might expect given that it was originally a church. The feel is designed to resonate with any resident — so whether you’re a young bachelor or living as a family, there’s something inside for everyone.”

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Current construction and future kitchen rendering.

Ultra-desirable amenities like private outdoor patios will occupy the bottom units, while the apartments above boast full-length terraces and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The finishes are similar to what you’d find throughout some of Dixon’s recently completed luxury apartments throughout Jersey City.

Like many multi-family facilities, the building called for a commercial elevator, and the team was tasked with something a bit different from what they’re used to.

“We typically specialize in personal, private home elevators, but with a commercial elevator there are several rules, restrictions, and size requirements needed to meet DOB standards,” said Fahy.

“One of the biggest stepping stones was collaborating with our structural engineers, the elevator manufacturer, and our in-house architecture team throughout every step of the way to ensure a seamless installation process,” he recalled.

Through careful collaboration, the custom-designed and custom-built elevator now sits at the center of the church, allowing for additional square footage in each unit and direct elevator-to-door access for certain units.

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Current construction and future dining room rendering.

Elsewhere, natural light is abundant throughout the apex of the church, where you’ll find double-height ceilings in two kitchen units, each spanning about two stories high. The team is most excited for the interpretation of the church’s massive gothic windows, which are beginning to take shape as well.

In an effort to restore the windows back to their original grandeur, Wolff explained, “We utilized the original shape of the windows to recreate a gothic-style window frame, and chose a triple-paned leaded glass to align with the church’s historic nature as the original glass had been destroyed. It’s the first time we’ve ever done something like this in a home.”

The nearby parsonage is about 80% complete, and features an expansive triplex and separate basement unit. Wolff remarked, “The interior is wider than your standard brownstone, but it still maintains that homey feel — perfect for any family. What really makes this structure unique is that it’s freestanding and unlike your typical row house, the parsonage has gorgeous arch-top windows at the front of the space.”

The freestanding nature of the building invites natural light from all angles and with the help of vaulted ceilings, a massive skylight, and arched windows, the space pays tribute to its historic past.

Dixon Projects Interior Designer, Danielle Garrison, who’s also working on the project added, “There’s also a wrapping staircase which you wouldn’t normally see in a brownstone, as well as an interior breakfast patio located off the side of the house.” Special features like these serve to accentuate the bold character of this renovated space and enhance its storied past.

While Dixon Projects is no stranger to historic renovations, the church is amongst one of the oldest structures that the design-build firm has encountered in its portfolio of projects to date. Originally built in 1864, renovating this structure in its existing state was no walk in the park.

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New structural steel before new roof was closed up.

One of the biggest challenges was installing the new roof. The team discovered that massive wooden beams spanning the entire length of the building served as its main structural bones, so they paired the existing beams with a highly secure steel structure, which was built underneath for support.

Fahy explained, “We had to dismantle most of the building’s original structure, and build a completely new steel structure, while also keeping the front and back roof as close to the original as possible. Everything on the inside came together naturally, but the roof structure and the bones of the building required an added layer of meticulous coordination between our talented architects and structural engineers.”

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New roof with steel and wood after roof was closed up.

Thoughtfully designed, both buildings are now ADA adaptable and feature ducted hyper-heat systems for effective heating and cooling.

Once finalized, all apartments in the main church and parsonage will come outfitted with a full suite of professional-grade stainless steel appliances, wine coolers, in-unit laundry, and hardwood floors.

Expected to be completed by spring of 2020, check back again soon as we uncover the final transformation of this exciting residential addition to Jersey City’s historic Van Vorst Park.

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