By SARAH ELLIS The State
COLUMBIA, SC—Columbia’s former Rosewood Baptist Church may never look like a church.
This fall, when residents move into new, modern apartments inside the half-century-old sanctuary, they will set up their dining tables under 40-foot arched windows once filled with colorful stained glass. Their decoration will be flanked by the dark oak panels of the old church; some will have the white painted cinder block walls of former Sunday School classrooms. Someone’s living room will sit roughly in the footprint of the old baptismal pool.
And a unique apartment will feature a stained glass mosaic more than 20 feet high depicting Jesus Christ with outstretched arms and hands. (An on-site construction worker cheekily referred to the apartment as “the Jesus Suite.”)
Above all this will still dominate the unavoidable bell tower.
“During design, one of the first things we talked about was the steeple,” said Frank Cason, whose development group Columbia is undertaking the transformation of the church, along with architects Garvin Design Group and Boyer Construction, on the corner of Sloan Street and Rosewood. Conduct. “I was… leaning towards, should we take this off?” And our architect said, it will always be a church. It’s still going to read like a church. Why would you take it off? That’s not going to make it less of a church.
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So they kept the steeple.
The apartments, dubbed 5th and Sloan, present themselves as a carefully thought-out mix of old and new; even the name of the complex under construction is an ode to the historic name of Rosewood Drive, 5th Avenue.
The apartments also represent, perhaps for the first time in Colombia, the transformation of a traditional church sanctuary into something other than a church. It’s a transition that’s happened in other places — the current Church and Union restaurant in downtown Charleston, for example, not to mention apartments, gyms, beer halls, skate parks, and a wide range of other new uses for churches, usually in locations farther from the Bible Belt. But it’s still a new concept in an area traditionally known for a proliferation of churches on every corner, figuratively (and sometimes literally).
In many ways, the transformation of the church into apartments represents a bridge between the past and the future of this place in Columbia. And it’s still a nod to a church community that hasn’t disappeared but moved further down the Rosewood Corridor into a smaller space as the congregation has dwindled in recent years.
Cason jumped at the chance to undertake the transformation project almost as soon as the church building hit the market in 2019, believing the structure could be saved and reused. Some people in the community thought it should be turned into a brewery, while others couldn’t believe Cason would even consider touching the sanctuary, the developer said.
Since work began on the site last October, it has been almost daily to decide what details can and should be preserved as construction progresses, Cason said.
“The big challenge is … it’s a new use of the structure, while maintaining the fact that there was a church, and we don’t want to hide that, and we don’t want to lose that,” said Case. “That’s part of the charm.”
Columbia as a city places a high value on historic preservation. And while the Rosewood Church building itself has no historic designation, the structure and the congregation that once occupied it have “significance” to the surrounding community, Cason said.
“It can be cheaper to tear things down and start from scratch,” the developer acknowledged. “There is a place to demolish, and there is a place to keep. Just because a building is old doesn’t mean it should be kept, and just because it would be easier to demolish doesn’t mean it should be that way. … This is how we want historic properties to be, where you can mix them with new; you can add them.
The 49 apartments on 5th and Sloan are scheduled to open to residents in October. A mix of one- and two-bedroom units, some two-story, will be spread across the old sanctuary, classroom building, and a newly constructed building between them. The complex will include a fitness center, resident lounge and outdoor courtyard, and several apartments will have outdoor balconies. Rents will range from $1,425 to $2,400.