- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

John General has never considered becoming a member of the clergy, but he proba-bly spends far more time in church than the average penitent.
He lives in the former All Saints Church of Easton, Md.
The one-time church has been deconsecrated, but Mr. General kept the priest's chair and one of the deacon's pews. He uses them as seating in his great room. He changed the vestry into a kitchen and the altar area into a sitting area.
He also restored many of the original Bavarian stained-glass windows, so, despite his homey touches inside, a passersby could easily think services are still being held in the building.
"When I moved from Palo Alto, I didn't want a real house," Mr. General says. "I was looking for something different, like a barn or a mill. I stumbled on this. In fact, I think it found me. As soon as I saw it, I thought, 'This is it.' I visualized what I could do with it."
While churches are most frequently used as houses of prayer and worship, some people are making the buildings their homes. Smaller churches provide room for one couple, while larger structures can be renovated into apartments or condominiums.
In bigger churches that can accommodate several living spaces, developers sometimes find it most efficient to gut the entire building, leaving little trace inside of a place of worship.
In Grace Church Condominiums in Southeast, which houses 24 units, the main reminder of its consecrated past are the stained glass windows, says Michael Armentrout, a resident of the condominium complex. The building once served as Grace Baptist Church, which was built in 1891.
Only a few condominiums, including Mr. Armentrout's, have stained glass windows. Without them, he says, it would feel as though he were living in a typical high-rise.
"I don't have a sense of desecrating a sacred space," he says. "You have the exterior architectural features, but if you didn't have the Gothic window, you could just be living in a 15-story building in Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom."
In other instances, homeowners decided to build upon the religious theme apparent on a church's exterior. Mr. General features pictures of Jesus, Mary and angels throughout his dwelling.
Although he does not consider himself a devout person, he appreciates the history of his church. He works as chief executive officer of Chesapeake Bay Region Technical Center of Excellence in Easton, a nonprofit organization developing high-tech businesses on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Built in 1870, All Saints burned to the ground in 1899. In 1900, the congregation rebuilt it. Due to lack of use, the building was boarded up in the 1930s. In 1982, Dicran Berberian, an artist, bought the church to use as his studio. After he passed away, Mr. General purchased the church in 1990.
"People aren't surprised I live in a church," Mr. General says. "I've just always done things a little different."
Even as he altered the interior of the sanctuary, he tried to make it seem as though the new architecture had been original.
For instance, he incorporated a second floor in the building in a seamless fashion. He hired an architect to design the area and make sure it is structurally sound. It is accessed by a circular stairway on the first floor. The balcony of the master bedroom overlooks the great room on the first floor of the home, which includes an organ.
Mr. General also incorporated the area directly below the master bedroom in an unobtrusive manner. Using the original vestry doors, he added a hallway with two rooms on either side, which serve as an office and laundry room. This area of the church used to be the chancel, the part of the choir near the altar where the deacons stand to assist the officiating priest.
"To me it feels like living in an English castle," he says. "I think it's a positive structure with a lot of positive energy. … It's a great brooding space."
One of the most difficult aspects to renovating a church is organizing new heating, cooling and plumbing systems in the building. Developers try to limit the amount of space used to house this equipment, so its occupants can have the most room possible.
Also, since a church is a large structure, it may be difficult to properly heat all the corners of the building. A room that typically might not be closed in with doors may need them to keep in the heat.
When renovating the former First Church of Christ, Scientist of Annapolis, John F. Pilli, owner of Pilli Development Co. Inc. in Annapolis, chose to have one boiler in the basement for the entire building. The interior of the church, now called Parish House, is still under development and will feature three condominiums and two offices at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Prince George Street.
Since the building is zoned for commercial use in the city, Mr. Pilli could only renovate it with condominiums above office space. Therefore, the living quarters take up the second, third and fourth floors, while the office space resides on the first floor.
Actually, the residential and commercial areas will each have separate addresses. Mr. Pilli hopes the alternating traffic for the offices in the day and the condominiums at night will offset the limited street parking.
While developing the church, Mr. Pilli consulted with the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, which approved the major changes he made to the building. For instance, he removed the frosted glass throughout the church so its inhabitants could see outside. He added the current fire safety and access provisions, such as a wheelchair entrance.
He also moved the louvers on the bell tower farther apart for a good view out the window. In the future, this room will be used for a martini bar, and he wanted the people inside to be able to clearly see the city.
Mr. Pilli says the changes he made were a balance between preservation and development, which happens any time a building is adapted for another purpose.
"It produces a very unique product," Mr. Pilli says. "It's something you don't see every day. That's for sure."
Every time Nancy and Mac Cramer, a retired couple from Charleston, S.C., tell friends they are moving into a renovated church, they receive amazed reactions. Mrs. Cramer says they wanted to move closer to their family in the metropolitan area. When they heard about the condominiums Mr. Pilli was creating, they placed a down payment without even seeing it first.
"We went up a few weeks later and loved it," Mrs. Cramer says. "Living in a church was the furthest thing from my mind … but as far as the fact that it was a place of worship, we are Christians. We go to church every Sunday. We like the fact that people were there worshipping."
Ron Brinster, construction manager for Brinster Enterprises Inc. in Annapolis, is designing two condominiums for rent called the Residences of 162 Prince George Street in Annapolis. The landmark was once St. Anne's Mission Chapel, which was founded in 1877. U.S. Naval Academy professor Marshall Oliver designed the building, which is an outstanding example of Gothic period architecture appearing in Annapolis from the 1830s to the 1880s.
"Everyone in town would know where you live," Mr. Brinster says. "People would walk in your home and say, 'It's breathtaking.' There's a lot of history in the church. It's like having a family tree to trace. You can trace the history of the building."

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