From Dave Brigham:
A preface to the preface: I haven't been out backsidin' much in Corona Time, but I got to Union Square last weekend to take a photo I wanted to add to this post (right after my son and I shot pictures of the MBTA's Lechmere Station on its last day in service; post about that coming soon). I published the first post in my series on this Somerville neighborhood in August 2019 and intended to complete the run by the end of the year. I got hung up on writing other posts, and then by early March I had to stop going out in the world without feeling like I was endangering my health. I will publish the wrap-up post in the near future. Be well....
A preface to this series: my explorations of Union Square took place more than a year ago, and some things may have changed in the interim. Also, as much as I've researched Union Square and the changes that have already taken place and those that are coming, I realize that a few walks through the neighborhood and some poking around online can't match the breadth of knowledge earned by folks who live and work in Union Square. I'm just sharing what I saw and what I think.
Welcome to the fourth installment in my five-part series about Union Square in Somerville, Mass. In the previous posts I covered, in part, auto body shops, murals, repurposed buildings, an egregious architectural gaffe, repurposed factories, beautiful old apartment/hotel buildings, bars, restaurants, social clubs, ghost signs, abandoned storefronts, retail outlets and more. To read these posts, click these links: December 6, 2019, "Union Square, Somerville, Part III: Retail and Hangouts"; November 7, 2019, "Union Square, Somerville, Part II: Factories and Housing"; and August 25, 2019, "Union Square, Somerville, Part I: New Purposes & Grease Monkeys."
In this post, which will be the shortest of the five, I'll focus on churches, former churches and statues. Logic dictates that I would also cover cemeteries in this post, but I mentioned the single boneyard of Union Square in the second installment, as it sits on land adjacent to a rather large old factory complex.
Let's start with my favorite church in the square.
This is Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal M.I. Arca de Refugio on Mansfield Street. Regular blog readers may recall my love for churches, especially small ones and ones located in buildings that originally served other purposes. This, despite my atheism. This place's name translates roughly to Church of God Pentecostal, International Missions, Ark of Refuge. The church acquired the circa 1910 property in 1998 from the Troubadour Social Club, per the City of Somerville assessor's web site. And so this site hits another of my favorite types of backside joints.
From perhaps the smallest and most unassuming house of worship, we move to the heavy hitter in the neighborhood: St. Joseph's Catholic Church.
I apologize for this unimpressive photo. I was trying to get a few of the church complex's buildings into one shot and didn't do a great job. At the far left is the church itself, which dates to 1874. Next is what I believe is the rectory. The hulking edifice in the foreground is the church's former school. It is now James Hagan Manor, a senior and young disabled housing outfit run by the Somerville Housing Authority.
Also on the church property is a Catholic Charities building, Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, some houses and statues, including the one below.
The Edward P. O'Malley Memorial stands in memory of deceased ushers for the parish. I've never seen a statue dedicated to church ushers. That's pretty cool.
Next is the former Prospect Hill Congregational Church, which dates to 1887.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with other buildings in the Bow Street Historic District, it has been converted to small apartments.
Just up the way, at 1 Summer Street, is another former church that's been converted away from Christianity.
Dating to 1874, the former First United Methodist Church now features multiple condominiums. "Construction of the [church] began on the eve of the Civil War and then, inexplicably, took sixteen years to complete!" according to a brochure issued by the Somerville Arts Council. "The outcome, however, is a handsome red brick and rock-faced, granite trimmed, Victorian Gothic house of worship. The 90-foot polychrome slate steeple that originally completed the east tower of the façade was removed after the hugely destructive hurricane of 1938. The building was recently converted into seven residential condominiums with expansive ceiling heights up to 65 feet!"
I'm gonna move along to another statue, and then come back to a mysterious church to wrap up this post.
This monument right near the former police station honors the Somerville natives who died in World War I. It was erected in 1920.
OK, now back to the church that tried, but failed, to remain hidden from me.
As I was walking east on Washington Street, toward the heart of the square, I looked to my left at a residential construction project and stopped in my tracks.
"What the hell is that lurking in between those two houses?" I asked myself. At the intersection of Washington and Webster Avenue, I looked back toward where I'd seen that mysterious building. I couldn't see anything. So I headed back west, determined to get some pictures and figure out just what I was looking at.
"Well I'll be dad gummed!" I didn't say. "That thar's a church!" I also didn't say these words.
But I knew them to be true.
I went around to Somerville Avenue and while I couldn't see the cross at the apex of the building, I did see the outline of a church, which had escaped my eyes on previous visits here.Below is a frontal view from Somerville Avenue, the shot that I took last week.
Built in 1870 as St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the building has undergone many changes in the ensuing 150 years. And more are coming.
"Sometime after 1960, the congregation dissolved and the building was sold," according to this summary of the church's history at the Union Square Neighborhood Council web site. "Joseph J. Vaccaro, Jr., owned it in August 1968, when a building permit was issued for alterations for use as a nursery school. Ten years later, the Walnut Street Center, a nonprofit social services agency that occupied the building for about 20 years, made additional minor alterations. The building most recently was used as a church by Haitian and Hispanic religious communities."
In March 2019, a developer named Elan Sassoon applied for a special permit to convert the former church to 10 residential units with first floor commercial space. I haven't been able to determine the status of that application.
To see a rendering of the outside of the front of that proposed project, once again return to the above-linked USNC web site. Sassoon was honored with a Somerville Historic Preservation Commission Directors Award in 2019.
Below is my favorite shot of the church.
I hope the developer keeps this part of the old house of worship.
Don't forget to check in for the final part of the Union Square series, in which I will do my level best to guess, and perhaps in some cases actually be able to pass along hard facts, about the future of this thriving and changing neighborhood.