Update: Historic Grand Rapids Church Transforming into 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.

A couple of weeks ago, a Grand Rapids friend asked me how the project is coming along. Almost the same day I was thrilled to receive some recent photos and news from Carol Moore, the Project Manager and person spearheading the efforts to revitalize the church. I would therefore like to share these before and after pics with you.

The painting of what will become a vibrant art center on Hermitage and Diamond in the East Hills neighborhood
Restoration of the front entrance of the church in progress.
The completed beautifully restored entrance
A close up of the stained glass windows, now looking at they did when the church first opened it doors well over a century ago.

Carol told me that the goal for the remainder of 2022 is to restore 20 stained glass windows on the south facade, including the giant 10’6” circular rose stained glass feature window. An experienced historic restoration expert herself, Carol has been stripping and refinishing all the window frames, while the Grand Rapids company, Kolenda Art Glass, has been responsible for the restoration, re-leading and installation of the glass in the frames.

It’s a $100K effort and at this time, further funds are needed to complete this leg of the project. Carol is hoping that each new sparkling window will work some magic and help fill the remaining fundraising coffers.  She further hopes to be able to have a public event in mid-October to show off the progress made.

Meanwhile Carol and the non-profit organization set up to secure the funding for the project have been applying for government grants and any other funds that are available.

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.

Community Event to showcase the Church Project – June, 2021

Rainy weather did not dampen the enthusiasm for our community event and pop-up art show last weekend on the premises of what will become a vibrant art center at 1009 Hermitage St SE in the East Hills neighborhood of Grand Rapids.

Project Manager Carol Moore and Chair of the Hermitage at Diamond non-profit, Maureen Kirkwood, brief the attendees

Two hundred and fifty members of the community attended to find out more about the plans to transform this beautiful church constructed in 1875. They also witnessed me “unveiling” of my original painting  of the church, depicting how it will look as an art center when fully restored. I was honored to present the painting to Maureen Kirkwood, the chairman of the recently formed non-profit Hermitage at Diamond which will be overseeing fund-raising for the project.  I donated my painting to show my support for the project and help with the fund-raising efforts.

East Hills artist and author Leisa Collins unveiling her painting depicting the church when fully restored
Carol Moore and Leisa Collins (center) with board members of Hermitage at Diamond non-profit group

The pop-up art show consisted of a display by 40 of my paintings of historic homes in the greater Grand Rapids area as well as the beautiful works of established Grand Rapids artists, Elaine Dalcher and Cathy Marashi. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support and participation.

Some of my pen and watercolor paintings of historic homes in Greater Grand Rapids
Paintings on display on the premises by Elaine Dalcher and Cathy Marashi

It has been a joy to be involved in this community historic preservation project. It aligns with my historic preservation award which I established in 2013 in order to give back to those setting a stellar example of saving and restoring old buildings rather than see them torn down. This is also the message of my coffee table book which I released a few weeks ago. The book includes paintings of home and historic buildings in every state across the country and my goal is to raise awareness nationally about the importance of historic preservation.

Carol Moore, project manager for the church restoration and long-time preservationist in the Grand Rapids area, welcomed the crowd.  Maureen Kirkland and board member Jennifer Williams spoke, followed by me and the painting unveiling and presentation to the board of Hermitage at Diamond.

Tours of the church were available and children had the chance to participate in an art project set up for the occasion.

Attendees were about to enter the church and see for themselves its amazing potential as a community art center
Children participating in a coloring in project

Every Building  with History has a Story. . .

The church at 1009 Hermitage is an imposing structure with stunning stained glass windows and a towering steeple.  It was constructed by the Third Reformed Church and reflects the cultural history of Grand Rapids, serving the Dutch immigrant population living in the “Brikyaat,” or brickyard, neighborhood. Services were conducted primarily in Dutch until 1944. The original building was expanded several times within the first decade, and in 1900 a new parish house was built next door to replace an older building. This home remains and will be part of the new art center.

In the late 1960s, Third Reformed Church moved to a new facility and sold the Hermitage property to the Church of God in Christ. Recognizing the historic significance of the church, the Church of God in Christ achieved inclusion of the church in the National Register of Historic Places.

The church was again sold in 1995, however the new owners found the costs associated with maintaining the 4,000-square-foot deteriorating structure beyond its means. Finally the building was condemned. Carol Moore and Bill Roelofs purchased the building in 2017.

The church in its current condition

Despite its deteriorated condition, Moore and Roelofs were drawn to the historic architectural features that includes a 400-seat sanctuary with a 60-seat balcony, a soaring embossed tin ceiling, and notable acoustic properties. The facility also includes a large open space and institutional kitchen as well as additional spaces, including the attached residential structure, for other uses.

Moore and Roelofs were motivated to acquire the structure not only for its historic value but also by their vision for a neighborhood-oriented adaptive reuse, creating a vehicle for strengthening community through diverse arts and cultural offerings. For project updates go to www.hermitage-at-diamond.org

I would like to give special thanks to Carol Moore, Elaine Dalcher and Cathy Marashi for helping to organize this event and making it such a special community gathering.

Cheers, Leisa







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