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What is the status of the old church on North Fourth Street?

Ben Steelman

As of May 2009, the old St. Andrews Church at 520 N. Fourth St., Wilmington [Map this], is in a state of limbo.

The non-profit Brooklyn Arts Center had tried since 2003 to renovate the church and its adjoining manse (parsonage) as space for arts groups and other non-profits and had owned the building since May 2007. In June 2008, however, the group concluded that it could not raise the estimated $4 million needed to rehabilitate the 120-year-old church building, so it sought permission from the City of Wilmington to sell the structure.

According to George Edwards, executive director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, developer David Nathans took out a renewable long-term option in early 2009 to buy the structure; in return he committed himself to do basic maintenance and stabilization work.

Nathans has been associated with a number of development and rehabilitation projects on North Front Street, including the St. Andrews manse at 516 N. Fourth St., and he has been been involved with efforts to rehabilitate the former church since 2002. (The Historic Wilmington Foundation has occupied the first floor of the two-story manse building since 2006.)

Plans to renovate the former church as an arts center have been circulating since 1997, when local officials eyed it as a possible replacement for the Community Arts Center/USO Building at 120 S. Second St., Wilmington [Map this].

(At the time, St. John’s Museum of Art had wanted to obtain the arts center property, demolish the World War II-vintage wood structure and erect a new museum structure on the site. The idea was opposed by historic preservationists and arts groups, so St. John’s elected to rebuild at 3201 S. 17th St., Wilmington [Map this], becoming Cameron Art Museum.)

The dilapidated former church was close to demolition in 1996 when it was acquired by Charlotte-area businessman W. Douglas Foster. Foster undertook to install a steel-truss roof and made other repairs to stabilize the exterior of the building.

In 1998, after the Good Shepherd Ministry withdrew a bid for the property, the Historic Wilmington Foundation bought the building from Foster. The foundation then promptly resold the property to the City of Wilmington for $500,000. In less than a month, however, on Aug. 27, 1998, winds from Hurricane Bonnie collapsed much of the old church’s front wall along Fourth Street.

Built in 1888-1889 by architect-contractor Adolphus Gustavus Bauer (who had also worked on the governor’s mansion in Raleigh), the building was the home of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. The manse was built in 1908. Memorial Hall, a Sunday school annex at Fourth and Campbell streets, was added in 1910.

On June 1, 1944, the St. Andrews congregation merged with the Church of the Covenant, 1416 Market St., Wilmington [Map this]. (The combined church became known as St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian.) With the merger, the original St. Andrews cornerstone, some of the stained glass and some of the furnishings were removed to the Market Street church.

The Fourth Street building was then occupied a series of other congregations. Holy Trinity United Holiness Church acquired it in the 1960s.

Years of neglect took their toll, however. On June 8, 1995, a lightning bolt tore a gash in the north wall, and a subsequent windstorm left roof beams exposed to the elements. After city inspectors termed the building a safety hazard, the small Holy Trinity congregtion was unable to raise funds for repairs. The possibility of demolition loomed, especially after Hurricane Fran inflicted more roof and brick damage in September 1996. At this point, W. Douglas Foster made his purchase offer.

The property is still listed as for sale on the Preservation North Carolina Web site, with a suggested price of $595,000.

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