The slow deterioration of the Victorian-era wooden church on the Magazine and Valence streets has caught the attention of the Louisiana Landmarks Society.
It was the only Uptown building on the preservation advocacy group’s 2022 list of New Orleans’ Most Endangered Sites.
“Long a fixture along Magazine Street and for years described as ‘the country church uptown,’ the church building is now forlorn and neglected, a former neighborhood anchor now in decline on a busy, thriving commercial part of Magazine Street,” the LLS states in its report.
It may not be neglected for long. The building has also caught the attention of a Baptist congregation in the Uptown area.
NOLA Baptist Church has been making plans to take over the landmark building — believed to be the first and one of only two New Orleans churches designed by prominent architect Thomas Sully.
The fledgling church entered into an agreement with the building’s owner, the New Orleans Baptist Association, on March 21 to purchase it for a reported $559,000. While the terms of the sale were still being worked out, a third party stepped in to purchase the property and then lease it to NOLA Baptist, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Kyle Jagers, told Uptown Messenger.
The purchase date has been extended to Sept. 30, Jagers said, and the negotiations are ongoing. “If these negotiations fall apart,” he added, “we will proceed to purchase the property.”
Jagers, his family and others from their Shreveport church moved to New Orleans about nine years ago to “plant” a new Baptist church. Operating out of rented quarters, first on Prytania Street and now on Tchoupitoulas, the congregation has continued to grow and chose the 127-year-old building to become its permanent home.
The church is currently working with an architect on plans to restore the historic main building and its annex and is seeking a general contractor.
“We recognize the history and architectural integrity and value of the property,” Jagers stated in an email, “and we feel honored to restore it to its original beauty.”
The 1885-86 building was built in the Stick Style, a design trend that preceded the Queen Anne style championed by Sully. The style was named for the overlay board strips on the exterior, such as the diagonal arrangement on the Valence Street Baptist Church’s gable.
The church grew from an evangelical mission that first opened in a Valence Street house in 1880. It was an outgrowth of the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s 19th century effort to establish more churches in New Orleans, according to a Society of Architectural Historians description of the building.
The building was raised in the 1930s to provide more space for the growing congregation.
By 2014 — 10 years after the building was featured in the Ray Charles biopic “Ray” — the congregation had shrunk to the point that it could no longer afford maintenance. It turned over the title to the New Orleans Baptist Association so that the building’s original mission could continue.
The NOLA Baptist congregation, while still raising funds for the project, appears determined to restore both the building and the mission.
Jagers said he recognizes the difficulty of the task. “Work will likely begin slowly,” he said.
The church is also aware of the importance. “We have had many interactions with locals,” Jagers said, “and we know how much the restoration of this church building means to our community.”
This report was corrected on Sept. 9 to remove a statement that the door to the church was originally on Valence Street.