Church to Be Sold for Bar, Hotel

The Reformed Church of Beacon

The Reformed Church of Beacon (Photo by C. Rowe)

Investors hope to open Beacon venue in 2022

The Reformed Church of Beacon is in contract to be sold to a development group that plans to convert the 161-year-old sanctuary into a venue for music, theater and other performances, a bar and cafe, and its parsonage into a hotel. 

Gavin Hecker said he and his partners, Josh Friedman and Lauren Walling, hope to finalize the sale in June and within a year open a 500-seat performance space and a bar and cafe at the former church, which sits on a strip of Wolcott Avenue between two new housing complexes: River Ridge Views townhouses and the West End Lofts apartments. 

The hotel would come in a second phase, with the group envisioning a minimum of 25 rooms in the parsonage or a building that replaces it. The partners also plan to rehab the church’s historic but neglected cemetery, which was the original burial site for William Few, a signer of the U.S. Constitution, but has become overgrown. 

Hecker is a musician, promoter and post-production sound technician for film and television who moved to Beacon with his family two years ago. In 2010, he founded the PhilaMOCA performance space in Philadelphia, inside a former mausoleum showroom that dates to 1865. 

He anticipates booking local, regional and national music acts, and offering events that could range from theater to comedy and family entertainment. The sanctuary would remain “pretty much as it is” with the possible addition of a deck on the back of the building, a new seating arrangement and bathroom renovations, he said. 

The sales price was “in the ballpark” of the $1.25 million listed by Houlihan Lawrence for the property, said Hecker. Another $4 million to $5 million will be spent to complete the project, he said. 

“I love presenting new and innovative music and performance, and I feel that Beacon is the right spot to do that,” said Hecker.

church entrance

The church entrance (Photo by Chip Rowe)

The Reformed Church of Beacon was founded in 1813. Its original wood building was demolished in 1859 to make way for the current red-brick structure. Few, a Georgia senator, was buried at the cemetery in 1828 after dying while visiting Beacon, then known as Fishkill Landing. His remains were moved in 1973 to Augusta, Georgia, at that state’s request. 

The church’s history also includes a visit from the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher during the Civil War. In its heyday, attendance reached 200, said the Rev. Jan Fritzinger. But when she arrived in 2006 as a student pastor, turnout was considered good if 10 people showed up for the Sunday service. (Fritzinger returned as the church’s pastor in 2016.)

The city has discussed whether to take over the cemetery and add a walkway that connects Wolcott to the Metro-North train station. Mayor Lee Kyriacou said on Wednesday (April 21) that he has spoken with the development group about “the proper preservation of the cemetery and potentially a public walkway.” 

The church closed last spring, holding its last service virtually. An evangelical congregation based in Orange County, Goodwill Church, has been renting the space since June for services. 

It was a classis, or governing body, of the Reformed Church in America that arranged the sale of the building, said Fritzinger. At 3 p.m. on May 23, before the sale closes, members of the congregation — including some who grew up attending the church — will hold a final, in-person service. 

“It’s very sad for them because, obviously, there’s a strong attachment,” the pastor said.

Saving the Records

Historical Society digitizing church documents

1859 church

The current brick structure replaced this earlier one torn down in 1859.

The documentary history of the Reformed Church of Beacon since its founding in 1813 as the Reformed Dutch Church of Fishkill Landing was stored in boxes that have since been removed, pending its sale. 

The archives include 60 pages of handwritten specifications from 1859 by Frederick Clarke Withers, the architect hired to design the building. 

There were also birth, marriage and death records; children’s Sunday school assignments; personal letters; framed portraits of the pastors; and script written for an event organized by the women’s missionary group with a note to “Mrs. Reed” to “please play grandma.”

Emily Murnane, a Rombout Middle School teacher and Beacon Historical Society trustee, is sorting and digitizing the archives of what is considered the city’s oldest church to make them available to researchers and the public. 

Frederick Clarke Withers

The church archives include handwritten specifications by its architect, Frederick Clarke Withers.

Usually, the records would have been sent to the Reformed Church in America’s theological seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but the historical society received permission to take possession temporarily. Murnane, armed with a scanner, began her work in May 2020. 

The undertaking represents “the project of a lifetime” and is the society’s first large-scale digitization effort, said Murnane. Although far from finished, she will discuss some of her discoveries during a Zoom presentation on Tuesday (April 27) at 7 p.m. Register at beaconhistorical.org.  

“I’m hoping that I am honoring those folks at the Dutch church — honoring their love and their dedication to their church by bringing some of these stories back to the light, where people can know them and understand what a special place it was and what special people they were,” she said.

7 thoughts on “Church to Be Sold for Bar, Hotel

  1. There is a substantial difference between a church at its essence and the building hosting the congregants (the church) when they meet. However, it’s still not easy to see a historic building such as this losing its purpose not just now but several years ago.

  2. I think converting the church to a bar, hotel and entertainment venue is grand. Now someone will take care of the building. It is a heavy lift for a church with no one coming to services. [via Facebook]

  3. This is going to be an amazing addition to our community. Beacon needs, and will benefit from, a venue that hosts live entertainment. [via Facebook]

  4. A true performance space would be amazing in Beacon. We have had wonderful professional musicians perform at Quinn’s and the Howland Cultural Center, but both are limited in terms of space, lighting and acoustics. This could be the Beacon version of the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side. [via Facebook]

  5. We must follow ever so closely the pending sale of the Reformed Church of Beacon. For instance, there has been talk of moving its pipe organ; I believe the developers must protect it under our city’s own preservation guidelines. With most of these historic cultural resource properties, the inside is just as important and irreplaceable as the exterior. Its architect, Frederick Clarke Withers, helped put Beacon on the map as a culturally rich area. The least we can do is protect it.

    During discussions of code updates, council members have said that perhaps only buildings such as the Howland Cultural Center need protecting on the interior. But the interiors of the Reformed Church, the Craig House property and many other buildings in Beacon are just as historically important, and this municipality needs to protect them. It’s cringe-worthy to follow real estate agents and house flippers on social media boasting how they’re doing total gut renovations and turning charming historic homes into rebuilt cookie-cutter farmhouses. Beacon is starting to look like HGTV on steroids.

    That brings up another hot topic: Parking. The venue at the Reformed Church building could bring in 500 attendees plus a build-out of a small hotel. As the parcel sits now, there’s parking for 20 to 30 cars.

    I believe smart growth and historic preservation go hand in hand. I hope Beacon and its boards do not rush just to fill another void.

  6. I am concerned that yet another developer is rushing in to deface a beautiful historic building in Beacon, not to mention the nuisance it will create as a concert venue for 500 or more. Not only is there insufficient parking, but I don’t think the new oc-cupants of nearby townhomes will be terribly enamored. They deserve peace and quiet at night like anyone else.

    If you want to put on concerts, there is a stadium just to the north of us with plenty of parking. If you want something made out of this historic property, please keep our residential neighborhoods in mind and put in something which would be appreciated by all, like an upscale farm-to-table restaurant such as they have at Blue Hill Farm.

    The interior of this church must not be destroyed and the pipe organ is an integral part of that interior. There is parking enough for a restaurant and the interior would be a spectacular setting for it. Plus, it could be used from morning to night, with little fuss every day of the week. This is a town that cherishes its history and neighborhoods; it’s not the rundown industrial area of a big city waiting to be exploited.