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Roxbury church gets new chance at preservation

Neighborhood residents have sought to spare a more than century-old building in Roxbury that once housed the St. James African Orthodox Church.Keith Bedford/Globe staff/File 2018

A more-than-century-old church in Roxbury has been spared from the wrecking ball, at least temporarily, after the city granted the building emergency landmark status Wednesday.

The Highland Park church building, home of the St. James African Orthodox Church until 2015, has been under threat of demolition as neighborhood residents and a real estate development company have faced off over the future of the property. City Realty Group, which owns the church, presented plans at an April hearing to demolish the building and build housing on the site, while neighbors have been working to have the now-derelict building designated as a historic landmark and possibly repurposed for community use.


In June, the Boston Landmark Commission said it would study the neighbors’ request to grant the building landmark status, a designation that would prevent City Realty Group from making significant changes to the building without the Landmark Commission’s special approval. But officials said the process could take months, and the building would remain vulnerable in the meantime.

A city order for a 90-day demolition delay ended Monday, leaving residents worried that the church’s destruction was imminent. Those fears were compounded when a neighbor sent an e-mail to the community that the person had seen construction workers cutting off the water supply to the property, which must happen before a demolition.

City Realty Group, which purchased the property through 5050 LLC, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Concerned neighbors made calls and sent e-mails to city officials, and on Wednesday, the Landmark Commission secured emergency landmark status for the property per a document filed with the Registry of Deeds. This gives the commission 90 days, with a possible extension, to follow their process for considering the building as a landmark, during which it can’t be knocked down, according to Carl Spector, commissioner of the environment for the City of Boston.


As the next step in the process, a public hearing is scheduled for July 31.

Rodney Singleton, 57, who lives near the church and is cochair of the Highland Park Project Review Committee, which coordinates local advocacy, was upbeat about developments with the church Wednesday.

“We just have to stay engaged and keep the pressure on,” he said.

Rosanne Foley, executive director of the Boston Landmark Commission, wrote in a statement that the commission understands the importance of the property to the residents and its historical significance.

“We’re doing what we can to ensure the opportunity for protective designation through our processes as we’ve done throughout Boston,” she said. “As a pending Landmark, it’s our job to see that 50 Cedar Street is provided that opportunity.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh also reassured concerned residents at a community event in Roxbury.

“There is no fear today of the church being torn down,” he said. “We’re working toward a solution there that’s going to be a positive solution for the neighborhood and for the church long-term.”

Jamie Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.