A former house of worship has been totally transformed.
Now, the final condo in the church conversion project is on the market for $1.5 million.
“The church was built back in 1875,” explains Mazen Zaatari, the project manager for the renovation. “It is one of the historic landmarks in our city. It’s considered one of the city’s most iconic structures, thanks to the use of Potomac bluestone and limestone trim on the exterior of the building.”
Zaatari’s company, Morningstar Community Development, usually works on large-scale residential and commercial renovation projects, and had never tackled anything resembling the church-to-condo conversion.
“We wanted to preserve this historic landmark in the District of Columbia, and we wanted to come up with an idea to reuse the structure and create something, without destroying the historic elements of our city. This was our perfect chance to jump on this one,” Zaatari explains. “It’s something that everyone looks up to, and it’s a building that no one wanted to tear down.”
The architect Appleton P. Clark, Jr. designed the church in the Romanesque Revival style, with a tower that earned it the nickname of “The Lighthouse on the Hill.”
Reportedly, President Woodrow Wilson and his family attended Easter services at the church in 1913. The church looks much the same on the outside as it did over a century ago, but the inside is vastly different.
After over two years of restoration on the 16,000-square-foot structure, it was divided into six units, which range in size from 2,293 square feet to 2,765 square feet.
“A few have private entrances. All are three-story townhomes with elevators, highlighted by high-end finishes and appliances,” Zaatari explains. “When we were thinking about it, we wanted to have common elements for all units, but at the same time, we wanted a unique element for each unit specifically.”
The unit currently for sale is Unit 5, which has two bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and a turret on the exterior—which creates a round room inside.
The owners of Unit 3 have the original dome of the church in their living room. That unit sold in July 2020 for $1.3 million.
Each unit features stained-glass windows, all of which were removed, restored, and reinstalled.
“The stained-glass windows alone took us 18 months to restore. It was one of the most important things for us,” Zaatari explains. “They represent the church and its history. It looks amazing when you’re on the inside when the sun’s coming in, and you see all the reflections of the stained glass.”
The restoration has won several awards for its design, including a 2019 District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.
Zaatari was creative in his reuse of existing structural elements throughout.
As he tells us, “There’s not a single historic element in this church that we got rid of. We used literally everything.”
The one exception is the bell that was in the church’s 130-foot tower. That’s gone, replaced by a light fixture in what now serves as a private common space for the condo owners.
“You get all these amazing views from the top. It’s a 360-degree view of Washington, DC,” Zaatari says.
When Morningstar bought the building, the bell was still intact, but there was no way to access the top of the tower. A new spiral staircase takes care of that. Renovation of the tower also involved safely relocating many pigeons that had been nesting at the top.
There’s also a common wine cellar for residents, where each owner has a separate, climate-controlled storage area.
Zaatari says that he could have carved even more units out of the structure, but that parking would have been a major headache for residents. He says the surrounding neighborhood doesn’t offer enough room for dozens of cars—which had already been a major problem for the church and its parishioners.
Zaatari says an ideal buyer for this unit is someone who appreciates a vintage look on the outside but modern decor on the inside.
All the other units have sold for prices between $1.5 and $1.8 million, and Zaatari calls his work a passion and a purpose project.
“We have many projects, but this one was a very unique one, that’s close to our hearts,” he says. “We’re in love with it.”
He understands that even though the finished product is beautiful, life in a former church is not for everyone.
“I can tell you, we’ve never gotten a negative reaction yet. People like what they see,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure that some people liked what they saw but weren’t able to put in an offer because they don’t want to live in a church. That’s something that we definitely expected.”
The listing agent for the available unit is Nancy Taylor Bubes.