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.
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.
Saving the Records
Historical Society digitizing church documents
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.
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.