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150-year-old religious conference center property up for sale in Newton

The Walker Center For Ecumenical Exchange was originally founded in 1868.
The Walker Center For Ecumenical Exchange was originally founded in 1868.Globe photo

The owner of a Newton conference center for clergy and faith communities has permanently closed its doors and is selling the roughly 2-acre property at the corner of Grove and Hancock streets in the city’s Auburndale village.

The Walker Center For Ecumenical Exchange, originally founded in 1868 by Eliza Walker as a missionary home, cited the coronavirus’s impact in a brief statement Tuesday to the Globe.

“After 150 years in Auburndale, and a rich history of serving others, The Walker Center is closing permanently. The difficult decision to close reflects the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said. “While the property is for sale, the Board of Trustees remains committed to promoting peace and justice and is exploring new ways to fulfill The Walker Center mission.”

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The property, identified as 136-144 Hancock St. and 171 Grove St. in online real estate listings, abuts the city’s Williams Elementary School and is about a half-mile from the MBTA Riverside station. Riverside is the location of an approved mixed-use development that will include hundreds of apartments, plus commercial and retail use.

The Walker Center provided conference and retreat housing, graduate student housing, and programming for people enrolled in programs related to subjects such as theology and religion, according to its website. It also offered a bed and breakfast, and held programs for faith communities and their leaders.

The Walker Center for Ecumenical Exchange, Inc., is a tax-exempt not-for-profit corporation, according to filings with the state Attorney General’s office.

The property’s six buildings are more than 50 years old, including the Harding East and West building, which was built around 1850, according to state historical records. The property is also located in the Auburndale Historic District.

No redevelopment plans have been announced for the property. The city requires review of any proposed redevelopment of buildings that are at least 50 years old.

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A group of neighbors concerned about the future of the property have been meeting with city officials, said Auburndale resident Paul Giragos in a phone interview. The group also solicited community input with a survey asking people what they would like to see at the property.

“We can’t affect whether developers buy it or not,” Giragos said. “But we were hoping to be organized, so that if a developer does buy it, we can make sure that what they put in there has a use that we feel is helpful, and not detrimental” to the neighborhood.



John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.