Church Revival

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Arts Issue: July 2014
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How historical houses of the holy around the Valley became converts to a new purpose.

Taco Tabernacle
Built: 1893, as a Methodist church and school
Repurposed: 2014, as Taco Guild restaurant
If you’ve been praying for a place that serves a ton of tequilas (like, more than 152) and innovative locavore street tacos among stunning stained glass windows, elaborate chandeliers and a seamless hodgepodge of secondhand items and historical finds, may your prodigal wandering bring you here. When Z’Tejas CEO Steve Micheletti was looking for a location for his new taco concept, he was skeptical of the enthusiasm expressed by commercial real estate agents about the location, which was badly in need of restoration.

But as soon as he saw it, he was a believer. “We drove down, and once you get past the smell, I had that Euripides moment where I saw it,” Micheletti says. “And within 72 hours, we had worked out a deal and we were off to the races.” In a matter of a few months, Micheletti’s team – including lauded interior designer Janet Henrich, who also designed locations for Z’Tejas and Eddie V’s – gave the old church a major facelift and opened for business. The heavy wooden door remains, as do the original color-bursting stained glass windows (dedicated by the church in 1965, and cleaned to the extreme in 2014), but the former front entrance of the church is now a modest-size but sleekly decorated private banquet hall, and the former sanctuary now houses high-top tables and a horseshoe bar. Can I get an “amen”?
546 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix,


Mission to Menu
Built: 1908, as a Mormon church
Repurposed: 1972, as Landmark Restaurant
Faith and food weren’t the only things to converge under the gabled roof of this National Register of Historic Places landmark structure. When its Mormon congregation outgrew the marvel they constructed, moving to bigger digs in the 1950s, the building housed insurance company offices and later served as the original site of the Mesa Community College campus. Ultimately, it became a restaurant. The interior has undergone many changes, including removal of a plethora of partitions, numerous new carpet installments, and the conversion of a meeting room the Boy Scouts built in the 1930s into a patio room. But while the building’s inner convictions have shifted, its outward face remains stoically unchanged, its fundamentals protected by its status as a national landmark. For restaurant owner Darren Ellis, whose family has owned the Landmark since 1979, it’s eternally an eatery. “For me, it was always a restaurant, because I grew up here,” he says. “But I can understand why people drive by and think [it’s a church]. It still looks like a church.”
809 W. Main St., Mesa,



Lord of the Ring
Built: 1910, as a Methodist church
Repurposed: 1992, as Michael Carbajal’s Ninth Street Gym
Light flyweight boxer Michael Carbajal won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics and five world championships, earning him the nickname “Little Hands of Stone.” But he never left the Garfield neighborhood of his youth – his Ninth Street Gym is walking distance from his Downtown childhood home, where he still lives. He says the white stucco structure – conveyed to Carbajal by a Phoenix couple in 1992 – was a church until falling into his hands of stone, aside from a brief stint in the 1980s, when it was a drug rehab center. The worn hardwood floors are original, but the pews were all removed long ago to make way for the pugilists. Carbajal trains neighborhood kids in the gym, sparring and thudding gloves where once Bibles were thumped. “There were two sections of seats, and an aisle between the sections,” Carbajal recalls. “The kids used to run up and down the aisle before we put the ring in.” The pulpit area is now occupied by a speed bag, with an American flag hanging on the wall behind it. There are also heavy punching bags, lockers and the aroma of sweat soaked into distressed rubber mats – but no website, working phone number or even air-conditioning (Carbajal says he doesn’t believe in AC; his girlfriend Laura Hall says he “likes the old school.”) In other words, it may have been a church once, but it’s hot as hell now.   
Corner of Tenth and Fillmore streets,



Old Rugged CrossFit
Built: 1928, as First Missionary Church  
Repurposed: 2013, as CoreCrossFit gym
“I never thought a CrossFit building could reside in an old church,” CoreCrossFit owner Kim Flores says. “But when people see what we’ve done... they usually forgive us and they’re pretty impressed with what they see.” The red brick building in the Garfield neighborhood near Downtown Phoenix was constructed in Mission Revival style, and underwent exterior restorations in the 1970s by its owners, the Melikian family, who also own the Hotel San Carlos. It was used intermittently as a neighborhood “town hall,” rental church for various congregations, and low-income artist studios and galleries until Flores rented the space last year. “We fully renovated everything,” she says, including removing the old stadium flooring, rebuilding the floor to fix “a 12-inch dip from the entry point to the back of the sanctuary” and converting the dining room into a yoga studio. Should you visit and see figures flying through the air, don’t worry about them being ghosts – holy or otherwise. Giant swings were installed in the ceiling of the sanctuary, which local dance group Scandalesque uses to practice aerial burlesque.
902 E. McKinley St., Phoenix,