In July, 21-year-old music publicist and Highland Park resident Graeme Flegenheimer discovered a 1913 church on York Boulevard up for rent on Craigslist and, last month, he reopened its oaken doors: it's now a sanctuary for the arts, aptly named The Church On York. "My goal is to make an all-ages space that supports the arts, a place to come and see movies, music, stand-up, readings, art shows, have a glass of wine, a beer, and food," says Flegenheimer, who lives just blocks from the century-old structure that began life as a Methodist church. "I want to keep everything as affordable as possible, I don't want to go above a $20 ticket."
The $7,000-per-month church was initially "a complete disaster," he says, but, with a crew of "mostly friends," the church has gotten a massive overhaul over the last few months. The work includes interior floating walls and a new roof insulated for sound.
With three shows under his belt that have "all gone really great"—including a sell-out that drew close to 300 people—Flegenheimer's plan is apparently working. He says he's filed for food and alcoholic beverage permits, and that parking is not an issue. The church lacks a lot, but Flegenheimer is providing "three lots within 1,000 feet of the church" as well as a sizable bike rack. "Part of my pledge with the community is to keep the streets free of congestion." A key factor, given the location: "I understand that this is a completely a residential neighborhood," says Flegenheimer, who adds that he's been talking extensively with the locals and that "the whole community's embraced it. We've approached everything in a very grassroots way, and we haven't lied or bullshitted anybody in terms of what we're doing and what we hope to do, and people have been supportive. If we make a mistake, the neighbors have said 'this could be done better' and we take care of it" "My neighbors feel comfortable about coming over to talk to us, they know us by first names and we know them."
Two of the Church's investors—Mickey Madden and James Valentine of the band Maroon 5—will also help the facility give a little back to the community: "They're going to offer an after school program that meets once a week, either in the spring or summer of next year, and they'll be teaching free guitar lessons to kids. I'm stoked for that."
Though there were initially plenty of skeptics vocal about the potential negative effects of having a bustling performance space in the compact 'hood comprised of homes and small businesses, Flegenheimer says fears have been allayed. "I guess the bottom line is people don't see us as this evil thing that we were initially perceived as, that we were going to come in and monopolize Highland Park. At the end of the day we want to provide a place where people can go out and have fun for a night and it can be affordable." Which is sort of like church anyway, so amen to that. --Peter Gilstrap
· The Church on York [Official Site]