Stone Church on The Avenue Takes on New Life

by Alice Cherbonnier
A $2 million renovation of a dilapidated century-old church in Hampden? Why not?
       A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, it was the Grace-Hampden Methodist Episcopal Church. Then, after a period of vacancy, it was the home of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church.

       Then there was a devastating fire in January 1999, and it looked as if the roofless hulk of the Romanesque stone church at 1014 West 36th Street would have to be demolished.

       But that’s not how things turned out. Gilden Integrated, a six-year-old Baltimore-based advertising and marketing company with a high-tech emphasis, needed more space.

       Jack Gilden—the company president who started the firm in a Hampden rowhouse with nothing but a laptop computer and $100—and his partner Evan Davis saw an opportunity to create something unique that was specially designed for their company’s needs.

       Having lived in Hampden for ten years (Mr. Gilden and his family moved to Roland Park just last year), and having affection for the area (his grandfather operated a grocery store in Hampden for many years), Mr. Gilden set out to make a silk purse out of what looked to many to be a sow’s ear at best.

       After consulting with a general contractor about the project’s feasibility, they paid $115,000 for the shell and land and hired Ziger Snead Architects, a Baltimore firm, to create the plans. The principal architect was Charles Brickbauer, AIA.

       “He really listened to us, and did a terrific job,” said Mr. Gilden of Mr. Brickbauer. “We said we wanted acoustical privacy, and real ceilings and real doors, and plenty of space between desks, and we got it all.”

Open House Celebration

       Two million dollars and over a year later, both Gilden Integrated and Hampden celebrated the completion of the renovation project on June 13 with an open house.

       Though city and state officials did not initiate the project, Mr. Gilden said they were interested and checked with him periodically about how things were doing. The Bank of America arranged financing, which included some lower-interest loan funds through the state, according to Mr. Gilden.

Light-Filled Interior

       The light-filled interior of the old church is yellow and white with accents of dark wood. Scorched roof beams tell the tale of the fire; new handrails are adjacent to old banisters. Large movie-like track lights stand ready when light from the huge round stained glass windows is not enough. One of the windows has the Holy Bible still at the center; the other two now sport stained glass “Gs.”

       The old Sunday School area is now three stories high, with private offices at the lower level ringing an open area filled with computer-laden desks. The former sanctuary contains a reception area, balcony offices, and a Zen-like frosted-glass-enclosed conference room topped with a bridged platform that surveys what feels like a castle domain.

       An elevator and various stairways connect the levels for the firm’s 40 employees. The firm used to have 22 other staffers, but the downturn in the tech economy necessitated laying off 12 people in mid-March and another 10 this June.

       Mr. Gilden said he expects the slowdown in the tech industry to turn around, with his company’s staff back at full strength within a year or so.

       “The march of science and invention—what we call ‘technology’ today—well, you don’t take steps backward, you move forward,” he said. “The strongest big models will stay, because we can offer opinions and perspectives that can help clients plan and strategize. We’re shoring up and making the business more efficient. We’ll be there when [the tech economy] bounces back.”


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This story was published on June 27, 2001.