Some people would stop after the fifth time a mortgage broker said “no”.
But Mark Thomas and Candice Chase laid out their financials for 14 brokers over nine months. Each one eventually denied them loans to buy the home and studio of their dreams — a former Methodist church at 12th and Windomere.
“We had a lot of cash, and we had a good credit score,” Chase says. “We had been waiting for five years getting ready to buy something. So every bank that interviewed us said we were surprisingly good on paper, you know, especially for artists.”
But Thomas, a cinematographer, and Chase, a still photographer, started pursuing a home loan early last year, as banks were failing and lenders were tightening ship. No bank would approve them because the couple wasn’t just buying a 7,500-square-foot house — they were buying a cavernous, dilapidated church that had been vacant and vandalized.
And they weren’t buying it to house a congregation or for a business. They wanted to move in, to live and work there permanently.
There’s no standard loan for that.
But the married couple wouldn’t give up. After looking at dozens of spaces, they knew the church at 12th and Windomere was perfect for them.
It had plumbing and electrical problems. Dozens of windows were missing or damaged. All of the copper tubing had been stolen. It lacked a working toilet.
The place was a mess.
But none of that made much difference from the artists’ perspectives. All they could see was light.
Sunlight enchanted them as it shone into the church’s sanctuary and shifted the shadows as the sun moved across the sky. So eventually, the owners agreed to finance it, and the sale closed in October.
That’s when things really became hairy. A friend recently gave the renovation project a tagline: “The ridiculous has gone insane.”
The building is zoned single family residential, but try telling that to the gas man. Or the guys on the garbage trucks. Or code enforcement. Only recently did Oncor turn the lights on in the couple’s name, and it took months of appeals.
“They would be like, ‘Yeah, we drove by there, and that’s a church,’” Chase says. “Just trying to get everyone to translate this building as a residence has been a challenge.”
The city doesn’t have blueprints for the building on file, so Thomas and Chase will have to hire an architect before they can get permits and variances for much of the work they want to do.
When they first moved in, a breaker blew, and they realized they had to replace the electricity meters. On his first major project, transforming a half-bath near the entry, Thomas fell through the floor, legs dangling into the basement.
“The ridiculous has gone insane,” Chase says.
Hot showers came when they finally bought a water heater, and their washateria time ended recently when laundry machines were installed. Before the summer heat arrives, they’ll have to replace six air compressors.
The couple transformed a “quad” of classrooms behind the sanctuary into a two-story living area. They pulled up linoleum and installed bamboo flooring stained deep brown. They kept the plaster walls pretty much as they were and had the duct system rerouted. A master suite is on the second floor, and a living room and library are on the ground floor.
Windows make electric light unnecessary most mornings in the master bath and library, which are on the building’s northeast corner.
The enormous basement had nursery-school classrooms with tiny tables and chairs, storage space and an industrial kitchen long out of use. Now Thomas and Chase use two classrooms for their offices, one as a guest bedroom and others for storage. These creatives aren’t into the culinary arts, so they are fine with a makeshift kitchen of fridge, microwave and coffee maker. Revamping the original kitchen is the last thing on their list.
Right now, windows are the biggest project. Every window frame in the building is encrusted with layer upon layer of paint, and Thomas is repairing and replacing them one by one.
Their next concern is fencing. Since their house abuts busy 12th Street, they want a privacy fence on two sides of the property, but that doesn’t jibe with Winnetka Heights Homeowners Association rules, so that plans requires a variance.
Eventually, they would like the sanctuary to serve as a studio, gallery, rehearsal and party space. In March, Chase photographed a roller derby league’s calendar there, the first photo shoot in the room that inspired their dream home.
“We’ve done all this stuff, and we just want to take pictures,” Chase says. “It’s like, can we start taking pictures now?”