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Shuttered Seattle Church Resurrected as Luxury Townhomes

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Historic religious buildings are a blessing and a curse. They connect people to the past and often represent the finest architecture and craftsmanship of their day. But they can prove too costly for their faithful to upkeep, and all too often parishioners are forced to wash their hands of the spaces. When that occurs, they are closed—or worse, torn down. In rare instances are religious properties adapted into residences. In rarer instances do the adaptations make as big a splash as The Sanctuary, a luxury townhome community in Seattle's Capitol Hill.

The First Church of Christ Scientist opened in 1914 after five years of construction. For decades thereafter, capacity crowds filled the 1,300-seat house of worship. The First Church's architectural importance was officially recognized in 1977, when it was landmarked by the city.

The church reached a crossroads in 2006. Attendance had dwindled, and the congregation relocated to a smaller home. Though the First Church sat on prime real estate, the Christ Scientists recognized the building's value to the community and sold to a preservation-minded developer for $3.3M. The conversion into residences began the following year.

The Sanctuary doesn't resemble a typical church. Designed in the Classical Revival style, it lacks a steeple. Only the stained-glass windows hint at its former use, but their geometric designs evoke Frank Lloyd Wright more than St. Francis. The stone exterior exudes strength; the granite is from New Hampshire, and the Indiana limestone is the same cut for the Empire State Building, Washington Cathedral, and Biltmore Estate.

Inside, there is no question as to what is old and what was added. The dozen residences radiate off the tony Grand Atrium, which is topped by an ethereal stained-glass dome. The units, which range in size from 1,600 to 3,000 square feet, are divided into levels to scale down the 38-foot-tall ceilings. The stained-glass windows were retooled so they can slide open and allow in more light. Original pilasters, exposed brick walls, and reclaimed pew stair risers share space with the contemporary steel, glass, and concrete architectural elements. A few residences have private rooftop terraces that overlook Seattle's skyline. Elevators reach the underground parking.

The Sanctuary's transformation was not without hiccups. The original developer defaulted on a loan in August 2010, and the nearly completed homes sat vacant for a year. Last summer, a judge appointed a new developer, who spent $2M to complete the project. The first residents arrived earlier this year.

The Sanctuary recently sold out, even though prices were hiked 5 percent on May 1. One is a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath unit with a 316-square-foot courtyard that was offered for $819,950. Another is a two-bedroom, 2.75-bath unit with 610-square-foot rooftop terraces. It was offered for $879,950.

· The Sanctuary [Runberg Architecture]
· All Sanctuary coverage [Curbed Seattle]