Repurposing the Manse
President of the Presbyterian Church of Wyoming and Architect for the Healing Space
If I had a Bucket List, converting the Manse into a joy-filled, fully functional building would be right there on the top of the list.
I have been a church officer more often than not for the past 25 years. One of our constant and nagging problems has always been: “What to do with the Manse?” By the time I became a church officer, the building was no longer a viable residence that could be rented out and pay for itself. The building had been a drain on the church budget for as long as anyone could remember, and it posed a dilemma that I thought might never be solved. Earlier fantasy solutions ranged from burning it as a training experience for our volunteer fire department to moving it to Sharon Woods Village. Fortunately, with the protection of the Historic District, nothing rash had ever been done.
The church has kept up the Manse and maintained it all this time. I presided over at least two paint jobs, and we installed new heating and air conditioning hoping that someday we would find the long-term solution. I would frequently have discussions with Anne Lou Helmsderfer about the building. She was concerned, even worried, that someday the responsibility of owning the building would become overbearing for the church and we would have to get rid of it. She often provided the seed money to subsidize the painting and repairs, and she quietly funded us when we remodeled the Manse so that an Associate Pastor could occupy the building for a brief period of time.
Before Anne Lou’s passing, the Associate Pastor, David Zuidema, and I met several times with her to discuss the Manse. She wanted to know that the building would survive, and she was willing to provide the funds to ensure this. While we couldn’t make any promises for the indefinite future, we did agree that we would protect and nurture the building for at least 10 more years. During that period, we would work to develop a positive and sustainable use for the building that would raise the profile of the church and benefit the community. Accepting this goal, Anne Lou Helmsderfer made a very substantial gift to the church, solely for maintaining or modernizing the Manse.
A few months after Anne Lou’s gift, the church received the initial proposal for The Healing Space of Cincinnati. Without her gift, we would never have been able to fund the necessary changes to transform the Manse from a home to essentially an office building. But because of Anne Lou’s generosity, we were able to accept the proposal for The Healing Space of Cincinnati.
Despite the many hurdles, we worked steadily towards the vision of the Manse as a healing space. First, we had to work with the City of Wyoming to get the permission to renovate. This required action on the part of the Planning Commission, the Architectural Review Board, and the City Council. Then, we had to work with the Hamilton County Building Department for permits for the Change of Use and the modifications to the building. We had to make it handicapped accessible as well as bring it up to current standards of building safety.
All these challenges drew out the renovation process, taking about a year and a half from start to finish. While it seemed like the remodel was taking forever, looking back I believe this was the right amount of time for all of the details of the building and the healing space structure to develop and come together just right. And so, in dedicating the Manse with its new use as The Healing Space of Cincinnati we are turning the corner on history.