|Undated Image of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church at Salem Square|
Jim told me he took the Trolley from North Main St. and had a great ride down Main and Front Sts. on car #193, a fully and authentically refurbished 1927 Osgood-Bradley trolley! What a great story - the trolley was built in Greendale in 1927 and started service on the old Airline between Worcester and Boston that same year. It subsequently spent some time on Staten Island before being shipped to Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1947 where it served its citizens for 23 years before finally being retired in 1970. It was rescued from the scrap yard in 2007 where it was restored and reused as a police station in a town in southern Brazil (see video about this project - caution: unless you are a fan of death metal, I suggest hitting the mute button).
Here's Jim M.'s post....
As workers continue to untangle the mess of services at City Square, separating the two towers from (what we hope is) the soon-to-be-demolished mall, I can’t help but be thankful for the more even-handed approach that Hanover has taken to the project. Though still conceived in phases, it would appear that Hanover prefers to view the site as separate but related parcels--as opposed to another mega-project--where each phase of development must stand on its own, both conceptually and financially. But it is also clear that with their recent acquisition of Notre Dame des Canadiens they are still settling their view on the forest. And so as Notre Dame has entered the ranks of other abandoned churches, many people are wondering what would be the best use for this building?
Churches pose many unique problems when considering adaptive reuse, especially large and richly decorated ones. The main problem is that their vaulted architecture and detailing do not lend themselves to partitioning and discontinuities, which can make the reconfiguring into office or residential spaces seem bizarre and incongruous at best and downright jarring at worst. Small neighborhood churches can usually be converted with little problem, but large churches that follow the traditional cathedral pattern of nave, choir, transept and apse don’t have it so easy; they were designed to be awe-inspiring mass-assembly halls, and they will resist any efforts to temper or otherwise redirect that emotional impact. This is why many churches are converted to artist and performance spaces (though the majority are still condos), which tend to maintain the integrity of the main halls.
One approach to this problem is to think of the main structure as a shell to a lesser but more functional one: a building inside a building. It’s worth noting here that this is by no means a new concept in church architecture, which often includes intense, almost jewel-like inner structures, especially for tombs and altars (see the Edicule at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem or the altar at Saint Peters Basilica in the Vatican—perhaps two of the most famous examples). In a contemporary context, however, the actual use of the space will define the inner structure and dictate a visual contrast that downplays the new use in relation to the original architecture. This is one area where modern architecture excels because of its plain geometry and functional styling. The Chopo Museum in Mexico City (the original structure was actually a German pavilion for an industrial fair) and, my favorite, a bookstore in Maastricht, Holland built inside a thirteenth century Dominican church are both good examples of this strategy.
|Bookstore in Maastricht, Holland Built Inside a Thirteenth Century Dominican Church|
It also seems to me that the open-floor designs possible under this model could utilize the space effectively while keeping construction costs down. Again, like the church in Maastricht, a stand-alone structure could work well and could be adapted to different uses or commodities. Though my bias and preference would be a used bookstore, with Ben Franklin preparing to close its doors forever it pains me to say that a one would probably not work in this model. Sellers of new books, like Barnes and Noble or Tatnuck booksellers, however, could certainly pull it off. The former has participated in at least one innovative mixed-use project that I know of--the Power Plant in Baltimore, and the latter, no stranger to adaptive reuse, would be welcomed back to Worcester with open arms. The obvious problem here is the already languishing retail environment around the commons, which would necessarily frame this idea in the context of City Square and other efforts to reverse this trend.
Though I’m doubtful that a restaurant as a stand-alone entity would work here, I think one could succeed in a mixed-use context. It would certainly be one of the coolest restaurants in town, and with the impressive patio space would make a great three-season dining spot with some of the best views of downtown. I would seriously consider some type of food retail component almost regardless of the main economic function of the building.
It should also be mentioned that Notre Dame, which was built in 1929 and was one of the area’s last major buildings to go up before the depression, was the mother church for the first French-Canadian parish in the U.S. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would certainly qualify for historic and new market tax credit financing under a number of different scenarios, not just the one considered above. I also suspect there are many national organizations that support the arts that might seriously consider helping this project along.