CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It is one of those places you drive by and say, “I wish something cool would go in there.”
For at least 10 years, the church on the corner of Hawthorne Lane and Central Avenue has been vacant. It was once home to a growing Methodist congregation, and most recently housed a recording studio. That owner did renovations inside, but the outside is weathered and tattered.
“We have about 300 listings,” said Commercial Real Estate Broker John Nichols. “And we get more calls on this than any other single property we have.”
Nichols says the right use just hasn’t come along yet. He gets a ton of requests from groups wanting to use the building to meet or house an exhibit, but until recently, they’d all been turned down.
Then in January of last year, Candace Ivy, a resident artist at the McColl Center in uptown contacted Nichols with an idea that caught his and the owner’s attention.
“I was just driving by that space continuously and began to be really interested in it. A lot of work that I do is working within spaces that are not specifically art related spaces but maybe have a history of being abandoned or empty for a number of years,” Ivy said from her home in Boston.
“When Candace approached us originally we thought of the old church downtown. She was part of the McColl Visual Art Center and so we just felt like there might be some good luck and some synergy of an old church being converted down there and then something with this,” said Nichols.
After getting permission to use the space, Ivy enlisted the help of architecture students at UNCC. Antonio Martinez, now a graduate and practicing architect, helped bring her drawing to life.
“It is sort of a manifestation of this church,” he said. “The way we got it because we walked around the neighborhood and interviewed everyone we saw… about this history of this church. There were just all of these meandering stories that touched on what may have happened.”
The result is a piece of installation art that starts at what would’ve been the pulpit and extends outward attaching to the stained glass windows. It is a series of 100, eight foot tubes that took four months to create. Installation took 15 days and Martinez says it took every minute.
“What’s great about it is when you touch one of these things the whole thing kind of reacts,” he said.
The exhibit is named ‘Rhizome’ and Martinez says the definition fits the location.
“Most basically it is a network of roots underground. In the winter when the plant dies and the leaves fall off, the roots survive and still grow a bit.”
Already, there’s been a great deal of interest from folks who stopped by to take a look.
“The initial reaction is the same as yours and mine. Wow, this church is in such good shape. These windows are beautiful,” he said as the morning light came through the stained glass.
“When it was a recording studio a lot of people said why was it never fixed up on the outside and that’s because they didn’t want people to know what was on the inside,” explained Nichols. “They had millions of dollars in equipment in here.”
But now the opposite is true. Antonio Martinez and Candace Ivy want as many people as possible to pass through the church. Maybe that activity will lead to a new use.
“If I was a developer, which I’m not, I would like to see the church stay some really cool amenity and then see some really great apartments go around it,” said Nichols of the Plaza Midwood location. The owner has four and a half acres and all of it is for sale.
“It is always a tragedy to see buildings like that sitting empty for so long,” Ivy explained. “Definitely part of working in that space was to open it up and to invite people to come in and see what we’re doing.”
The exhibit is open through the end of October. Hours are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. But Martinez says if you stop by and see the door open, feel free to come in.
Be sure to check out the photo slideshow of the exhibit next to this story. To find out more, click here.