The Church Brew Works

DATE: 1996
LOCATION: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
OLD USE: Church
NEW USE: Brewery, restaurant


History

St. John the Baptist Church was built in 1902 and located in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Louis Beezer, Michael Beezer and John Combs were the architects that designed the rectory, church, school and convent. Although somewhat altered to provide a modern appearance, the buildings were designed in a Northern Italian Architectural style – remaining faithful to the existing architecture in the community. Starting in the 1950s, Lawrenceville and the rest of Pittsburgh were changing. Factories were closing up and shifting operations elsewhere. Due to financial and organizational considerations, the Diocese deconsecrated the church in 1993.[1]

(Re)Developer

Sean Casey purchased St. John’s for $191,200. It was the first time that the Diocese sold one of its churches to a developer.[2]

Outcome

The entire adaptive reuse project utilized 10,000 square feet of the church itself, 4,500 square feet of the rectory, and 2,000 square feet of the adjacent dilapidated school. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation gave the church Historic Landmark status in 2001 thanks to the restoration work on the church’s Northern Italian architecture. Although it opened in the summer of 2006, the restaurant and brewery are currently still undergoing renovations.

The project did bring some uneasiness to the community due to the idea of a brewery being located among religious objects. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was assured that all of the sacred items had been removed before the sale of the church. Canon law requires that all religious objects be removed from churches that are being put to secular use. After the Church Brew Works opened, the diocese had been aggressive about “desanctification,” even if religious items are destroyed in the process.

There has also been an informal partnership made between the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the diocese to encourage a more sensitive reuse of religious buildings. In the agreement, Landmarks agreed to receive consent from the diocese before nominating a diocesan building to either the National Register of Historic Places or the city’s historic designation.

Since the opening of the Church Brew Works, 44 full-time and 40 part-time positions have been created. Also, while the surrounding neighborhood has not changed from the mixture of residential and commercial properties, the value of these properties has increased. Surrounding apartment complexes were sold to New York investors.[3]

[1]The Church Brew Works
[2]Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center
[3]Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center

Images courtesy of VisitPittsburgh, Matthew Marco and Joe Collver.