Watch Now: Music Resource Center Lists Church Building Home | Local News
Crammed between an aging bus station, fire station and the Salvation Army, the Ridge Street storefront of the former Mount Zion Baptist Church is easy to miss despite its soaring spire and large for sale sign.
Charlottesville Church, built in 1884 by a congregation of African Americans and home to the Music Resource Center for 17 years, is on the market.
Although the youth music center will eventually leave the building, it’s not going anywhere. He just needs a bigger house.
“I love this space. It’s absolutely beautiful and a great piece of history, but we just need more space,” said Alice K. Fox, the center’s executive director. So much space and there’s a lot of money to spend on renovating and maintaining a historic building, we’ve just passed it.
The Music Resource Center opened in 1995 in a rehearsal space above the Trax nightclub, which for decades served as a hangout for artists from The Ramones and Marilyn Manson to John Mayer and Nickelback.
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From lessons and performances to songwriting and recording and even internships at local venues, the center has helped instill in local youth a sense of accomplishment, life skills and a love of boogie .
The center moved into the church in 2004 with financial assistance from the Dave Matthews Band, after the church congregation outgrew the historic building. With multiple recording studios, practice spaces, and the former sanctuary as a performance hall, the church has served the center well but is simply no longer large enough to accommodate the center’s programs.
When the Greyhound bus terminal behind the center was put up for sale, RCN officials decided to do the same.
“We think now is the right time to bring the building to market,” Fox said. “Our hope is that the sale will allow us to build up an endowment to some degree and that we can find a new facility.”
The church is listed for around $1.8 million, given its prime location near new hotels, the University of Virginia-dominated West Main Street corridor, and the Downtown Mall.
Being adjacent to the bus station, which is not a historic building and can be demolished for redevelopment, has created some excitement.
“A lot of the interest we’ve had with the church is around the Greyhound station,” said John Pritzlaff, who, along with Jenny Stoner, represents the Cushman & Wakefield – Thalhimer property. “It’s a bit like the other properties in town where [developers] have adopted an existing building and used it in the redevelopment of their property, especially a historic building.
The old church is not only historic due to its age, it is also listed on the National Historic Register.
The building itself incorporates features from several architectural styles, including Italian Revival and Classical. It is also an important part of the history of Charlottesville’s African-American community, according to the Historical Register’s affidavit of nomination.
“The church reflects the determination of black people to participate in mainstream society, but in a way consistent with their own needs and aspirations,” the document states.
The affidavit notes that most activities and organizations in Charlottesville and throughout the South were controlled by white society. The churches, including the building on Ridge Street, provided a place specifically for blacks.
“Mount Zion Baptist Church served as a place of worship, social center, theater, forum and general assembly venue for the black community,” the affidavit states. “Today it serves as a reminder of those early years of freedom and self-affirmation.”
The former shrine is named LeRoi Moore Performance Hall, after the late saxophonist Dave Matthews Band.
It includes a “semi-circular two-tiered chancel and pulpit centered on the west wall and a gallery that surrounds the east, north and south walls,” according to the affidavit. “The narrow oak floors are meant to be original. The tops of the 10 windows that light the room are hidden by the gallery.
On the back wall of the attic is the shell of a pipe organ. The ceiling is covered with acoustic panels and the bases of the roof’s “modified scissor trusses with support purlins” are exposed. So did the reinforcing steel rods installed in 1986 when the roof began to sag and tilt the walls.
According to the historical document, between 1905 and 1917 the basement was completed, the bell tower built, stained glass windows added and a pipe organ installed. The pulpit and choir loft were modified to add a baptismal pool in the 1920s.
A two-story addition was built in the southwest corner and radiators were added to the sanctuary when steam heat was introduced around 1929. In the 1940s another two-story addition was built in the northwest corner to accommodate a pastor’s office and kitchen.
The church was at the heart of the nearby community of Vinegar Hill, which was a hub of residential, social and commercial life for the black community. Urban renewal in the 1960s demolished almost the entire neighborhood.
“It’s a complicated and historic structure for sure, and it’s a beautiful building,” Stoner said. “The beautiful old shrine lends itself to being a playhouse or restaurant or something similar.”
“It would be a great office space for a small business that views the building as a statement,” Pritzlaff said. “It lends itself to retail, offices and entertainment. There is a huge opportunity there.
For the Music Resource Center, the sale price could help the organization relocate and redevelop a space near downtown to pursue its musical mission.
“We would love to find a bigger space not too far away because a lot of our kids walk here from Buford Middle School,” Fox said. “In many ways, we provide a bit of freedom in that the kids can come in, play music, take lessons, hang out with their friends, go downtown and eat something and come back. We would like to continue this.
Fox said finding the right place won’t be easy.
“We know it’s going to be tough and that’s why we thought we’d put the sale sign out front, to get things going,” she said. “We’ve had tremendous support from the community for 25 years, and I hope we’ll continue to have that as we take the next step.”