Highlighting the woman behind the transformation of a historic Grand Rapids MI Church into a community art center
This is a project I am honored to be involved in: the ongoing transformation of a once vacant and crumbling historic church which is now being turned into a vibrant art center that the entire Grand Rapids community can enjoy.
Just over a year ago, I created this painting of the church at 1009 Hermitage St SE in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids, in support of the renovation efforts. My painting depicts how the church will look when fully completed, freshly painted, a new roof and restored windows with all the original stained glass beauty fully in tact once more. At the time I lived only a few blocks away from the church.
I have some stunning update photos below, but this article focuses on the superhero woman who has been driving this project forward. Over the last decades, this same person has lead the charge in restoring and renovating old homes and buildings in the Grand Rapids area, thereby uplifting the entire community as a result.
Introducing Carol Moore!
But rather than me simple writing about Carol, I thought it would be more interesting for you to hear directly from her.
You have a been a mainstay in the area of historic renovation and restoration in Grand Rapids, when did you first get involved in this activity and what encouraged you to do so?
Growing up in Savannah GA exposed me to the majesty of old buildings, a childhood experience that continues to influence my appreciation for historic structures. In 1978 I bought a 100-year-old house for $15,000 in a Grand Rapids neighborhood which was in economic and demographic transition. Despite years of disinvestment, crime, and demolition, my neighbors and I stayed, outlasted the badness, and put down a tap root to save our neighborhood. We also had it designated a historic district. Today the neighborhood is thriving and beautiful, full of renters and homeowners alike, all enjoying a renewed sense of community.
The Hermitage at Diamond project will result in a meeting place that can be enjoyed by all, what prompted you to make it into a community art center?
The former church and attached parsonage located at the corner of Hermitage and Diamond was built by Dutch immigrants in 1875. It’s an imposing wooden structure with dozens of beautiful stained-glass windows and a 460-seat performance space notable for its fine acoustics. As is the unfortunate fate of so many old buildings, the property fell into serious disrepair over the decades, was condemned by the city, and put up for sale. That the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 is the only reason it was still standing and not in a local landfill. I had watched the building’s decline and distress for a long time, made an offer, and began triage in earnest in late 2017. This project combines my passion for preservation with my love for the arts and my understanding that people need a place to gather in order to build community.
How long have you been working on this renovation/restoration project to date, and what is your hope for completing the project?
Restoring Hermitage at Diamond is a huge challenge. Everything needs everything. I’ve been at it for 5 years focusing primarily on the exterior. Work completed to date includes rebuilding the steeple and bell tower; new roofs; rebuilding the foundations; new siding, insulation, and painting; new front doors; and some stained-glass restoration. Over $700,000 in private donations and in-kind contributions have been invested to date – and the inside restoration still awaits us on this multi-million-dollar project. The goal is to have a 150th birthday grand opening celebration in 2025. Fingers crossed on that!
What has been your favorite part of the project so far?
The most gratifying part of this project is seeing the results – reclaiming the beauty of the original architecture, restoring the colorful vibrancy of stained glass, refinishing old growth woodwork for another century of use and recycling an existing building as an act of environmental kindness. And when we’ve had pop-up concerts in the performance hall, both the musicians and the audience are moved by its resonance. What’s not to love?
Alternately, what has been the most challenging part of the Hermitage at Diamond project?
The most challenging part of the project is, of course, raising money. There are so many basic needs now resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic that restoring an old church for the arts may not be seen as a priority. But I know that the arts can be a post pandemic panacea because they unite people, they enrich our lives, they are healing and curative because they just make us feel better. When the arts are available, affordable, and accessible, they support equity, diversity, and inclusion. And when children are exposed to the arts, they perform better academically and socially. Providing a beautiful place for arts makes a neighborhood worth caring about, attracts young people, and stimulates the local economy. These incredible benefits are surely worth investing in. Hermitage at Diamond is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible and can be made at our website www.hermitage-at-diamond.org
You have a wonderful hands-on approach to the historic projects you tackle, tell us about that.
I am indeed hands-on with this project. I do all the finish work and log 1,000 hours a year of physical labor. In addition, I spend a lot of time communicating, scheduling contractors, attending zoom meetings, giving tours, problem solving, and basically promoting the project any way I can.
Lastly, are there any future historic renovation/restoration plans you have in store for Grand Rapids that you would like to share with us?
Now at age 75, I expect Hermitage at Diamond is my finale. I’ve spent over 40 years restoring houses, commercial and mixed-use property, apartment buildings, and even a local movie theatre. It’s been my life and my livelihood, and I’ve loved it all.
Thank you very much Carol for your inspirational interview!
Some new photos of the project:
While this is simply a news update and not a fundraising appeal, any donations — small or large — would be more than welcome for this invaluable project. Should you feel inclined to help out, it would certainly be appreciated and here is the link to do so.
As a re-cap, here is the story of the community event , pop-up art show and painting unveiling that took place in June 2021, which was open to the community. I also include some of the history of the building.
Thanks again for your interest and support of historic preservation!