Miami Beach’s first and oldest church reopened its historic sanctuary to the public Friday night with a holiday concert following a three year, multimillion dollar, top to bottom restoration. The Miami Beach Community Church which was built in 1921 on land donated by Carl Fisher fronts Lincoln Road on the corner where it intersects with Drexel Avenue.
Board member Herb Sosa said, "This is not the official opening. It’s a sneak peek. There’s still some work to be done. It’s a little rough around the edges” but he said the church appreciated the City giving the go-ahead for occupancy. In addition to last night’s holiday concert featuring Latin Grammy Award winning flautist Nestor Torres, the church will hold a full candle light service on Christmas Eve.
“Within the next couple of months, the little details will come together,” Sosa said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous, lavishly decorated for Christmas!”
It was hard, but worthwhile work getting to this point, Sosa said. “As with most any other building in a coastal city, there were challenges. We had to strip this beautiful lady down to the bones and reinforce everything, literally from the foundation up. There were huge trenches around the columns. The interior roof was held up by scaffolds for months. Every single inch of sanctuary was brought painstakingly back to life.”
Sosa, a former chair of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board, emphasized this was a “true restoration, not renovation" that includes modern technology. "All new lighting, all new electrical, and all new sound system," he said. "We really have the best of all worlds… a restoration that Carl Fisher and founders would have been proud of with a sanctuary that’s fit for the next century.”
“I stood there yesterday and after like three years of knowing and seeing every single step of it from all perspectives – from the historic preservation perspective, from the church member and board member perspective, and just as a citizen – to see that property come back to life has really been amazing, just amazing. To know that we’re a welcoming church that is again open and modern, open to any and all, I think is a great reflection of Miami Beach as a city and as a community. It’s certainly something that I’m proud to be a part of.”
The façade restoration was funded through a $175,000 grant from the State. That funding allowed the porch to be brought back to the original sidewalk level, along with the full restoration of the terracotta façade and other architectural details, according to Sosa.
The interior work cost nearly $3 million which came from church funds, most of it from a deposit on a multi-year lease for a future retail center adjacent to the church in a corner courtyard. The church entered into the agreement when it was in a “dire” financial position six years ago, Sosa said. Similar to other churches, he said a combination of demographic changes, and increased expenses led the Miami Beach Community Church to look for options. "We are on Lincoln Road. We are the City’s urban church. We love that but with that comes a lot of financial challenges.”
With a restored building and shored up finances, Sosa hopes the church is in a solid position to weather the next one hundred years.
Many thanks to Herb Sosa and the Miami Beach Community Church for sharing their photos of the construction progress, below.
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