A group of residents is trying to save a venerable Malden church that is set to be demolished as part of the Malden Center redevelopment project.
But the group does not include members of the First Church of Malden, which was first established in 1649.
Over 320 people have signed an online petition to Governor Charles D. Baker in hopes of preserving the 184 Pleasant St. structure. “First Church of Malden has tremendous historical value not only for the city, but also for the state and even for the country,” the group wrote in the petition.
“As far as I know, no one on that list is a current member” of the congregation, said the church’s pastor, Rev. Patrick McCorkle.
The church is slated to be razed along with City Hall and the police station as part of Jefferson Apartment Group’s planned $100 million redevelopment.
The firm reached agreement to purchase the church in early 2015, according to Sandi Silk, vice president for development for Jefferson. She said the project is expected to begin about the end of the year.
Jefferson Apartment Group declined to disclose terms of the sale. According to the Malden assessor’s database, the church is valued at $1,932,600.
The existing building, constructed in 1934 according to a book published by the Malden Historical Society in 2015, is the third or fourth to house the church on the site. But the residents’ group said it provides a vital connection to the rich history of the congregation.
Prisco Tammaro, a group member, said part of the impetus to save the church is the experience of seeing other older structures demolished in the last decade.
“With so much building going on, little by little we’ve been losing many of our historic buildings in Malden,” he said.
Inna Babitskaya, another group member, said that in addition to the historical importance of the church, many residents have strong emotional connections to it.
“They were christened there, married there, or went to Sunday school there. So it’s very close to them,” she said.
Babitskaya said the petition organizers envision the church building could be converted into a local history museum and a place for meetings.
McCorkle said the church will continue as a congregation, and members are still meeting there while another space to rent is sought. He said the congregation has no misgivings about the decision to sell.
“It’s something we had to do,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to try to keep up a structure that is realistically way too big for the congregation.”
Silk said that the state review of the goverment center project determined the church building was not historically significant. But she said,“We recognize the role the church played in the community of Malden for hundreds of years . . . so we’ve taken great care in designing the project.”
The development calls for 320 market rate apartments, 21,000 square feet of retail space, 46,000 square feet of office space to be purchased by the city, and 330 parking spaces. The church site was not part of the original plan but was added when the church — damaged by fire in 2014 — became available.
“We’ve been working in close collaboration with the city and the church and the abutters on this project to really transform the impression and the reality of Malden Center,” Silk said.
Mayor Gary Christenson complimented the residents for their activism but said he supports moving forward with the project as planned.
“When we first heard the congregation was looking to sell the church due to dwindling enrollment and their inability to afford the upkeep, we met with several members to see if there was an opportunity” for the city to acquire the building for community use, Christenson said. “It became clear there wasn’t going to be a scenario that fulfilled both parties desires.”
He said when the city later heard that Jefferson had agreed to purchase the building, “We began immediately talking with [Jefferson] to make sure the history and the memory of the church was somehow incorporated in the development, and I think that has been done.”
Most of the contents of the church will be available for purchase in a public sale at the church on April 29 and 30, according to Ellen Downer, a principal of Estate Sale Specialists. She said everything from pews, the altar, doors, drapes, and windows to the contents of the church’s commercial kitchen, library, and gymnasium, and even a grand piano will be included in the sale.
Sale hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 29 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 30, according to the Estate Sale Specialists website.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.