Born Again: Dad’s Garage Theater converts a church

Sanctuaries can be prime real estate
Dad's Garage
From church to . . . theater company

Photograph by Tim Redman

When apartment construction booted Dad’s Garage Theatre from its longtime Inman Park space in 2013, artistic director Kevin Gillese began a months-long quest for a new home. After touring 20 properties, Gillese entered a cavernous Old Fourth Ward church last spring. His reaction: Hallelujah!

The 12,000-square-foot building on Ezzard Street (a block from the original Thumbs Up Diner) had been leased by the Atlanta Metropolitan Christian Church, which was outgrowing the space. Gillese saw three key attributes: a buzzy location; a congregation-sized parking lot; and architectural awesomeness like “wicked cool” steps, stained glass, and sanctuary ceilings high enough for a light-and-sound grid.

The Dad’s crew, which for now performs out of 7 Stages in Little Five Points, isn’t alone in its affinity for vacated places of worship. “The line of buyers is long, and the availability is not,” says Rick Arzet of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, a church sales specialist. But zoning rules can make converting sanctuaries for other purposes “impossible to surmount.”

Dad’s successfully won rezoning, and to cover the mortgage on its $2 million chapel raised $169,000 on Kickstarter—matched by an anonymous donor. Gillese says the church will undergo a “desanctification ceremony” before Dad’s irreverent improv shows start in mid-2016.

Other spiritual-to-secular conversions

Photograph by Tim Redman
Photograph by Tim Redman

From church to . . . 2,500-square-foot flats
850 Euclid Avenue, Inman Park
Last congregation: Lizzie Chapel Baptist Church
Resurrected as: Lizzie Chapel Flats (ongoing)
Church sold for: $684,000
Conversion story: The 1930 Neoclassical Revival–style building has housed four congregations, ending with the lofts’ namesake in 2005. Kairos Development plans to transform the church into six 2,500-square-foot apartments by early 2016. Selling points will include 10-foot ceilings and huge windows. The prices are TBA.

Photograph by Tim Redman

From church to . . . offices, yoga studio
887-889 Wylie Street, Reynoldstown
Last congregation: Bearden Temple A.M.E. Church
Resurrected as: Offices for Kronberg Wall architecture firm and another business TBA
Church sold for: $550,000
Conversion story: According to church records, the temple was built in 1922 of granite quarried at Stone Mountain and transported by horse and buggy. Kronberg Wall will occupy the upstairs and lease the ground level as offices or a yoga studio. Bonus: an easy stroll to MARTA and a future Atlanta BeltLine extension.

Photograph by Tim Redman
Photograph by Tim Redman

From church to . . . 22 lofts with skyline views
985 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Poncey-Highland
Last congregation: Atlanta Highlands Church of Christ
Resurrected as: Providence on Ponce lofts
Church sold for: Not in property records; the LLC that bought the church is no longer in operation. A one-bedroom loft sold for $159,500 in 2014.
Conversion story: In 2004, the developer pitched the former religious compound—sanctuary, courtyard, classrooms, and offices—as Atlanta’s first green church-to-loft conversion. The complex is near the Freedom Park trails.

This article originally appeared in our May 2015 issue under the headline “Born Again.”