In the sanctuary of what was once the Norfolk Christian Temple, the pews lie in pieces. The hanging lights are intact, but parts of the ceiling are missing and one corner has bird droppings on the floor.
Vandals, time and the elements have not been kind to the 1920s-era Gothic revival building, but its beauty still shines through the mess.
The church has been vacant and deteriorating for about 15 years. But after a foreclosure last fall and a sale in March, the historic building in the Park Place community has new owners, a group of five engineers and contractors who intend to restore it. They don’t have firm plans, but the church needs plenty of work before it can be used again.
RJ Gowda, who owns a contracting company in Norfolk and is one of the buyers, is determined to do his best to save the church.
“This place is not to be destroyed,” he said. ”In the modern world, we cannot build something like that.”
When Gowda first saw the building, he didn’t know he would buy it. But he heard that another potential buyer wanted to demolish the building. When that buyer backed out, Gowda, who thought the church was worth restoring, said the property fell in his lap.
His only immediate plans are to put a fence around the building and secure it. He wants to then restore the outside as quickly as possible while keeping the appearance intact, though some of the original components may prove impossible to duplicate.
Gowda and his group bought the property for $265,000 in March under the name of Deccan Investment Properties.
Herring Bank, one of the lenders when another church bought the property in 2009, purchased the building at a public auction in November after the church defaulted on its loan, according to a deed. The bank was the only bidder and paid $691,900 for the property.
Before it was abandoned and foreclosed, the Christian Temple had a vibrant congregation.
Kathy Freeman, 63, a retired preschool teacher and museum guide, runs a Facebook page about the church where she posts photos and articles from the congregation’s better days. Her grandparents got married there in 1924, her parents met and married there and she and her husband were married in the church on a hot July day in 1981.
Now, when she drives by the 1922 stone building, she said it looks “kind of sad.”
The Christian Temple closed in 2006 after attendance from its aging congregation had dwindled for decades. For years, it remained a white congregation as the neighborhood around it became predominantly Black.
By the time it closed, only somewhere between 13 and 20 people were members. Most were elderly and Black, said Seko Varner, whose father was an official with the church at the time.
Varner, who handled the sale of the church, said he showed the property to contractors interested in turning it into condos, and the Virginia Symphony, which was interested in the building as a rehearsal location. Back then, the asking price was $1,275,000, according to a 2006 Pilot story.
One church moved in and put the property under contract, but couldn’t get the funding it needed. Then another church, the International Apostolic Fellowship, bought it in 2009 but ultimately defaulted on their loan.
Gowda said he hopes to get grant money for the restoration.
Julie Langan, director of the state Department of Historic Resources, said because the building is in the Park Place historic district, it qualifies for historic tax credits.
But the expense of the restoration could still be an issue. If it turns out the building will cost too much to restore, Gowda said he may have to demolish it. He hopes to avoid that. “I believe in structures,” he said.
Noble Brigham, firstname.lastname@example.org