A historic black church on Short Street once threatened by possible demolition has been has been purchased. Zeff Maloney, who renovated the Hurst office furniture buildings and other downtown structures, purchased the Central Christian Child Care Center building for $800,000 in July and plans to redevelop it into multitenant offices.
“We want to take it to the next level, it’s such a neat spot,” Maloney said. “We’ll totally clean it up, bring it back to its former glory, when it was an African American church. We’ll put it back to the way it used to be.”
The Italianate-style building at 266 Short Street, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1856 as the first African Baptist Church, the third-oldest black Baptist congregation in the U.S. and the oldest in Kentucky. Since 1986, it has housed the day care. Today, the sanctuary is the day care’s gym and classrooms.
The church was established by First African Baptist’s leader, the Rev. London Ferrill. He was one of three ministers who stayed in Lexington during the cholera epidemic of 1833 to bury the dead and minister to survivors. The Short Street church was built by his successor, Frederick Braxton, another well-known free black minister in Lexington.
The day care is moving to other buildings that Maloney owns nearby, which his Sable Holdings also purchased from Central Christian Church.
Maloney said he expects the new home for the day care to be ready by December, when renovation of the African Baptist Church building will begin. This summer, some painting and woodwork was done on the facade of the portico facing Short Street. He is looking for “interesting tenants,” he said.
In 2010, Central Christian Church announced that the church had a contract to sell the building to downtown businessman Joe Rosenberg, who was a partner with Dudley Webb in the CentrePointe project that cleared a downtown block of 14 buildings, some historic.
The news prompted concerns from preservationists that the African Baptist Church structure would be torn down. Ultimately, after efforts to convince Central Christian Church to act to preserve the building, the sale was put on hold. Other efforts to sell it to a group of black preservationists later failed as well.
Van Meter Pettit, a Lexington architect who was on the board of the First African Foundation, said Monday that it would be terrific to see the building revitalized.
“I hope it can be repurposed,” Pettit said. “These old buildings can have new life.”
Maloney said he is committed to preserving the structure.
“I cherish the history, and what it was, and what it can be in the future,” Maloney said.