A historic church transformed into a community center

By Royce Jones

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WILKINSBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — A Wilkinsburg historic site is getting a facelift.

Mulberry Presbyterian Church has been deteriorating for over 20 years. Scaffolding prevents the roof from collapsing and an ancient baptistery inside collects rainwater that falls from the ceiling.

But now the Center for Civic Arts is trying to turn this once sacred place, with more than 2,000 members, into a creative place.

“The school was vibrant with over 500 students attending this school,” said Jody Guy, founder of the Center for Civic Arts. “And there was an industrial-sized kitchen, so you could imagine the cooking that was going on.”

Over the years, several congregations attempted to make small repairs before collapsing in 2014. While some of the original features of the structure, which was built in 1905, have stood the test of time, others were stolen, Guy said.

Some of the stained glass windows were destroyed, the brass organ was scrapped, and the wooden pews were hacked away with saws.

“Seeing people on Easter morning carrying bench wood out the side door was just abominable, such disrespect,” Guy said.

Guy, who grew up around the corner and has family ties to the church, told KDKA there was also a problem of squatters and vandals in the vacant building.

These are some of the reasons that forced her to pursue taking possession of the church from the previous owner through conservatorship, which she won in court in 2019.

And through numerous partnerships, the church will now be transformed into a community center for children and creatives to come together and consume art and culture.

“It could be exhibits, poetry reading, beautiful and tasty food, craft beer tasting,” Guy said.

Jendoco Construction provides the essential elbow grease. The work on the roof will be completed in a few weeks. Then it’s on to school, utilities and more.

“As this wing of the school is complete, there are exterior window repairs, new windows to be installed, restoration of some of the historic windows,” said Chris Klehm, vice president of Jendoco Construction.

The school portion of the structure could be leased as a creative space as early as 2023. But the grand design could take a decade and $13 million, a project Guy hopes will catch the eye of investors.

Guy said she was considering long-term leases for the space at around $6 a square foot.

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