HBI completes sale of St. James African Orthodox Church to Roxbury Action Program

HBI completes sale of St. James African Orthodox Church to Roxbury Action Program

The historic St. James African Orthodox Church is on its way to becoming the new home for the long time African American organization Roxbury Action Program, and space for a variety of other community-serving organizations in Roxbury’s Highland Park.  

Historic Boston Inc. (HBI) completed the sale of St. James African Orthodox Church at 50 Cedar Street to RAP in July.  The historic church building has been under agreement to RAP since October, but the sale has been delayed pending the City of Boston’s placement of a historic preservation restriction on the property that enhances the existing Boston Landmark designation on the property.

The church at 50 Cedar Street has been an icon in the Highland Park neighborhood since its construction on the corner of Cedar Street and Hawthorne Street in 1910. The 8000 square-foot wood frame building was designed by Bostonian architect Edward T. P. Graham, and was originally built for a Norwegian Evangelical congregation. In 1955, the church changed hands to the African Orthodox Church as the area became a concentrated center for African American residents. The neighborhood and church provided the perfect environment for the growing African Orthodox congregation, an off-shoot of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA ).

HBI purchased the property in 2018 from developer City Realty as that company filed for the church’s demolition and clearance to make way for new housing construction.   Vacant since 2015 when the church building was sold by its last remaining members to City Realty, St. James was in poor condition from years of deferred maintenance.  However, its rich history and architecture became a rallying point for neighborhood residents who mobilized to collect more than 2500 petition signatures and submitted them to the City of Boston Landmarks Commission to advance the protection of the site as a Boston Landmark.  Mayor Martin J. Walsh asked the Suffolk Superior Court to issue an injunction, delaying City Realty’s planned demolition of the church building long enough to allow Historic Boston to negotiate its acquisition. 

HBI repaired deteriorated floor structures, secured windows and doors, and undertook a full assessment of the building’s conditions.  HBI also replaced the roof of the church and repaired the roof’s structure in order to prevent additional water damage to the building.  At the same time, HBI examined a variety of feasible re-use options, including affordable housing on the site.  

RAP’s consultants are currently assessing the condition of the building and evaluating various community-supporting uses for the church building.  These continue to include RAP’s own headquarters and offices, non-profit offices and incubator space on the ground floor.  

Thanks to the community’s mobilization and advocacy, and HBI’s acquisition, the building is saved and protected, and is positioned to be a wonderful community asset and a beautifully preserved historic place for Roxbury’s future. 

We appreciate the all-critical organizing and advocacy undertaken by the Highland Park Neighborhood Coalition in the effort to save St. James, and the care with which it approached the building’s re-use.  HBI is also grateful to the Life Initiative for its support with acquisition financing, and the City of Boston Community Preservation Program, the George B. Henderson Foundation, the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust and the Robert Kuehn Foundation for their very generous support of the property’s stabilization and repair.

HBI looks forward to assisting RAP with its plans at St. James, and look forward to their stewardship of this important site.