Transforming a Building’s Purpose in Bayonne
What gives a building purpose? After years of moving from one venue to another, a former community center in Bayonne, New Jersey, is transformed into a Church Of Christ house of worship for the congregation of Jersey City. Meet the local volunteers and college students who helped renovate the worship building and see how being part of the renovation changed them.
Nan: So here we are, it’s a beautiful day. Jersey City, just across from me and New York City behind me. It’s an awesome display of just architecture. If you look and see the skyline, you see so many different designs, so many different buildings but, when does a building become more than a building? So that’s what we’re going to focus on today on this episode of Blueprint.
I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architectures from all over the world. But I found Architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building, discovering the characteristics that make it unique, and understanding the purpose behind it’s design. Most of all I love hearing the stories behind each structure and seeing God’s plan in putting it all together. Join us as we discover the Blueprint of the buildings and structures inside the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
The cool thing about living in Southern California is all the different kinds of architecture that you can find, like the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles.
But what makes it more than just a tall building and a downtown skyline? The answer to that question is right across the street from it.
In 1986, fires devastated the historic Central Los Angeles Library. In order to rebuild the parts that were lost, air rights were sold across the street to developers. Hence the tallest building on the West coast was built. But most importantly the Central Los Angeles Library was able to offer the social, educational, and cultural services it almost lost to the fire.
New Jersey may not be known for having the tallest buildings on the East coast, but it is known for having some of the earliest communities built in the U.S. These early communities became symbols of the future for many of the early immigrants and this is what they longed for. Bayonne New Jersey is one of those communities.
So we’ve been driving around Bayonne, just getting a feel for the community and the surrounding area and one thing you’ll notice is this is definitely a more historic region of the United States so the architecture of the buildings are a lot older.
Bayonne is located on a peninsula. Between Newark Bay to the west, the Kill Van Kull to the south, and New York Bay to the east. Like most of the Northeast, many of the buildings were built with a type of sandstone material readily available in New Jersey and nearby Connecticut.
I guess what they’re called here are brownstones. The buildings are typically more brown because of the bricks that they use and if you look around they’re more brown, warm tones, orange. What happens is you know, you see all that and you turn and then you see the Chapel.
The new house of worship sticks out even as you approach it, blue and white in color, you see it first by the two steeples and then by its flagpoles in the front.
You can see people slowing down and looking at the place of worship so it’s definitely a great addition to the community.
I spoke with Joe Makowski, a former councilman who has lived on this block for over 40 years and has seen the building used for various purposes.
Joe: The building before was the Ukrainian National Home, and what it was, was they rented a hall there but they had meetings there and-
Nan: Joe watched the building transform from the Ukrainian National Home to an Arts Theatre and Lounge.
Joe: People came later at night and in and out of the driveway and there wasn’t good lighting, like the lighting that you have now is so much better that I was afraid that somebody was going to get hit with a car or there used to be motorcycles that used to come.
Nan: He’s hoping the change in ownership will bring the type of people that will help raise the community.
Joe: So I’m not familiar with you know your actual faith services that you have here but I’m very impressed with all of the participants and the parishioners here. I find that wonderful and very quiet and just beautiful.
Nan: Out of the things that you see what kind of captures your eye the most?
Joe: Well when it’s lit up, the sign, Church Of Christ…That is in- it’s written in Filipino?
Joe: Okay and that’s what I always (look at), I go to that.
Nan: So the seal?
Joe: The seal, yes! With this change, I must say I watched it from the beginning. It is amazing. The transformation and the-
Nan: And you can get a chance to look inside.
Joe: Oh I would love to see the inside.
Nan: I’m here on Avenue E, in Bayonne, New Jersey, where you can find the newly dedicated house of worship, in the local congregation of Jersey City . As you can look around, it’s very very distinct in its architecture and I’m really excited, not to just check out the outside, but also the inside so let’s go check it out.
Interestingly enough, this building, more or less, started off as a plain box.
That all soon changed once the work began. A vaulted, two level roof was constructed, raising the overall height of the building as well as the interior ceiling height.
Additionally, dual steeples that rise above the roof line were added, instantly changing the profile of the building.
The aesthetics continued to transform with the addition of a stucco overlay to the exterior walls of the building along with decorative moulding that is common with many Iglesia Ni Cristo houses of worship. Another significant addition to the exterior is the dual staircase that leads to the newly added, double-door entry into the main lobby.
Alvin: Well I am the general contractor.
Nan: Alvin Perez was the contractor responsible for the renovation of the house of worship. He took me inside the building for my first look at the interior.
Wow, this is amazing, I can’t…I can’t believe my eyes. I mean…the outside’s beautiful but from the pictures that I saw from how it was before I would have never expected it to look like something like this!
Nan: The ceiling, I mean…I noticed or I heard that the ceiling was a lot lower before?
Alvin: Yes, it was way lower.
Nan: So what…I mean it seems like you can’t just suddenly increase the ceiling. That seems like a really big undertaking.
Alvin: The roof used to be like two feet above the window, you can see where the window (is) at.
Nan: Two feet above that!? That’s way lower!
Nan: To increase the height of the roof, the team began building right above the existing roof. It was an ingenious solution that provided the crew a safe and solid platform to build on. This also allowed for the construction to begin inside simultaneously.
With the existing roof still in place, it protected the interior from any debris or outside elements. The construction ultimately added 10 feet on top of the existing building. Once the new roof and ceiling were completed, the old roof was torn down and the result is the vaulted ceiling we see today.
Alvin: One of the hardest parts of this building was erasing the roof.
Nan: And then what was the reason for raising the roof? Why couldn’t you just keep it low?
Alvin: I’ve seen a lot of renovations. I’ve done a lot of renovations. I saw this building and I said to myself there’s so much potential just to leave it flat and low. So I asked permission from the (Church) Administration and they allowed me.
Nan: The renovation transformed the building into a landmark on this busy thoroughfare in Bayonne, but that wasn’t the only transformation.
Alvin: I mean I’ve hired a crew, which is one of the special things that happened in this construction.
Nan: The crew that was hired included some of the members of the Church Of Christ who at the time were either unemployed or students looking for employment.
Alvin: So I decided to help them out by giving them work at the same time knowing that they don’t have any experience. I took a chance of training them as I go.
Nan: Why would you- you know what motivated you to do that?
Alvin: I don’t know I just felt something like I knew by using the brethren, I know they’re going to give the love and their 100% effort because they belong here, and this is their chapel, and I knew they’re not going to give up on me.
Edwin: FIrst of all it’s not our line of (work) you know. He’s an I.T. I’m a biology student, so it’s like 2 seperate ways.
Nan: Wow…so God was really with you guys in everything that you did.
Edwin: Yeah and like most of us are officers so when there’s panata, we just do devotional prayer in here, all of us.
Nan: Wow, so you got to pray in the actual building that you guys were working on.
Edwin: Yes, yes.
Nan: What did that mean to you?
Leo: It meant a lot because like I said, it was our own chapel, so to be honest everybody was pretty much working like a perfectionist.
Ka Alvin noticed that we spent too much time on things but luckily he was patient and understood why we were working that way.
Nan: Wow so you guys were trying just to get everything perfect.
Nan: Now having accomplished what you guys did, has that opened up the doors to you guys helping in this kind of way, like do you guys want to pursue being able to help in construction or in building?
Edwin: Oh yes definitely. I would love to but I did part time because I’m still studying but I think he’ll go.
Nan: So it was a great experience for all you guys, you learned a lot. So as a crew, you know, I’ve heard you guys were inexperienced or unskilled.
Louie: Actually, it makes me really really proud because everyone sees it right now, how beautiful this place is and we don’t have any skill for this to like- we don’t have any experience doing this.
Edwin: I’ll just tell them “Look at it, that’s the work of a rookie, but that’s with God’s help.
Nan: As we sat there admiring the details of the new house of worship, I knew they saw more than just the wood and the paint. In every completed detail they saw the opportunities God presented them, the prayers God answered when no one else believe them, and even the the lessons they learned about themselves and their faith.
Edwin: We even have bible studies because of this, I mean bible students.
Nan: Because of the house of worship?
Nan: Just from them seeing it?
Edwin: I mean they were working here, so we invited them so…
Nan: Oh they were one of the workers that were working here? Oh wow so it’s just a chain of events that are happening. So many blessings-
Edwin: So many blessings!
Nan: because you guys were working here putting in so many hours all for God.
Edwin: All for God!
Nan: All for God! It’s the same motivation that has carried the local congregation since it was established as an extension of Elizabeth, New Jersey on June 3rd, 1995.
It moved them each time they needed to find a bigger place and fueled them in every extra hour they spent setting up for the worship services; and when they were faced with challenges, it was that same love that inspired them to move forward, pray harder and trust that God would always be there to help them.
Rodolfo: Every worship service we made it a point that worship services will be spiritual, encourage all the brethren to hold their devotional prayers, aside from the local devotional prayers, now here it is.
Nan: March 12, 2016. It was the culmination of years of prayers. One made even more special with the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, leading the dedication and first worship service in the new worship building.
Rodolfo: To me it’s very personal actually. Having a place of worship is not just, plain having a place of worship. It’s a manifestation of God’s love for the local. It’s actually like God is saying, “Finally I’m going to be pouring the many blessings you’ve been waiting for.” That’s how it is to me.
Gregorio: It’s no doubt it’s really God’s place of worship, it’s really a chapel. It’s comparable to the chapel in the Philippines.
God’s answers to our prayers. God’s answers to the devotional prayers of all the brethren here. Sorry I’m teary eyed…but it’s a testament that you know if you persevere, God will answer your prayers.
Nan: Today, the local congregation here continues to move forward. Their eyes now focused on making this place mean as much to the Bayonne community as it has come to mean to them. A hope that Gloria Cruz, a local realtor who watched the building go from being on sale, renovated, and transformed, believes isn’t too far away.
Gloria: I see this beautiful place. I saw the sign saying Iglesia De Cristo. So I was so happy. I almost jumped in the car. I just stopped beside and I started crying. You can see it from everywhere. Not only physically, but you can feel it’s something different going on here. It’s been impacting already because everybody (who) passes by sees there’s something going on here. You don’t need to know about real estate to know and figure out how it’s something special for the Church to be here. This place is different. This place is making a difference in the community.
Nan: It’s been another great trip here in Jersey City. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Blueprint, where in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.