Monroe Street Abbey: From Gothic Revival to Modern Hub in Arizona

The Monroe Street Abbey in Phoenix, United States, is a remarkable example of adaptive reuse in action. Designed by Jones Architects Studio, this 1929 Italian Gothic revival-style structure was once a Baptist church, but after a devastating fire in 1984, its future remained uncertain until the nonprofit Housing Opportunity Center stepped in to salvage the building.

Through a comprehensive restoration and remodel, the Abbey has been transformed into a vibrant cultural hub, featuring a courtyard garden, performance spaces, and a mix of leasable tenant spaces. With its historic integrity preserved and modern functionalities integrated, the Monroe Street Abbey promises to be a local treasure and a symbol of Phoenix’s resilience.

Impressive historical architecture with ornate towers, arches, and a central courtyard.
Impressive courtyard with ornate arched windows, steel-framed balconies, and lush greenery.
An industrial space with vintage boiler and a group of people gathered around, discussing.
Large open-plan studio space with high ceilings, exposed beams, and concrete walls.
A dimly lit industrial-style hallway with exposed brick walls, concrete floors, and blurred figures moving through.
A dimly lit, historic brick archway leads to a long, tiled corridor with simple chairs.
Brick archway frames a courtyard with trees, benches, and paved walkway.
Archway framing a courtyard with brick walls, potted plants, and people seated at tables.
A majestic historic building with intricate architectural details, including arched windows and tower.
Ornate architectural facade with arched windows, decorative stone carvings, and illuminated interiors.
This image depicts a striking architectural contrast between a historic church and modern high-rise buildings in the city.

About Monroe Street Abbey

Nestled in the heart of Phoenix, the Monroe Street Abbey stands as a testament to the city’s resilience. Formerly the First Baptist Church, this stunning Italian Gothic revival-style structure, built in 1929, has undergone a remarkable transformation under the skilled hands of Jones Architects Studio.

From Ruin to Renaissance

In 1984, a devastating fire ravaged the building’s roof and interior, leaving it in a state of disrepair. However, the resilience of the local community and the vision of former Phoenix Mayor and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, along with downtown neighborhood leader Katherine Patry, breathed new life into the structure. Their nonprofit Housing Opportunity Center stepped in to save the building from demolition, paving the way for a comprehensive restoration and adaptive reuse project.

Preserving History, Embracing the Future

The restoration, led by Jones Studio and landscape architect Chris Winters & Associates, has seamlessly blended the building’s historic integrity with modern functionalities. The structure was stabilized with a new steel-and-concrete decking framework, while new HVAC, plumbing, electrical, lighting, and fire sprinkler systems were carefully integrated. Notably, the project has preserved the building’s architectural elements, including the recessed rose window in the south wall and the 100-foot-high (30.5-meter) bell tower, ensuring the Abbey’s historic character remains intact.

A Courtyard Garden Oasis

The former auditorium has been transformed into a stunning courtyard garden, now referred to as Katherine’s Garden, in honor of one of the Abbey’s most dedicated protectors. Paved with the minimum necessary for performance and access, the courtyard features decomposed granite and native ash trees that provide natural shade and a serene ambiance. Utilizing harvested rainwater, the courtyard’s native and arid-adapted plantings create a sensory connection to the desert landscape.

A Multifunctional Cultural Hub

The Monroe Street Abbey now boasts a versatile event space, capable of accommodating up to 600 people. With stage opportunities at the north and south or a central “in-the-round” layout, as well as new A/V and performance lighting infrastructure, the courtyard is primed to host a wide range of events and performances. Surrounding the courtyard, the adaptive reuse areas offer leasable tenant spaces for restaurants, bars, galleries, studios, and offices, further enriching the cultural fabric of the neighborhood.

A Catalyst for Creativity

Conceived as a “cultural garden in a ruin,” the Monroe Street Abbey is strategically positioned within Phoenix’s vibrant downtown music scene, just steps away from renowned venues like the Orpheum Theatre, the Van Buren, Crescent Ballroom, and the Arizona Federal Theatre. As former Mayor Goddard eloquently states, “We have attempted to tie together the Abbey’s many lives: first as a church, then as a training center, a ruin, and now as a new community gathering space and cultural canvas where the historic and the possible converge.”

With its captivating blend of historic preservation and modern innovation, the Monroe Street Abbey promises to be a local treasure and a symbol of Phoenix’s resilience, enhancing the city’s artistic and cultural landscape for generations to come.

Photography by Bill Timmerman
Visit Jones Architects Studio

- by Matt Watts