Former Notre Dame Church in Pittsfield sold to Al-Khalil Cultural Center

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PITTSFIELD — The former Notre Dame Church on Melville Street has a new owner.

Noted Berkshire textile artist Crispina ffrench, and her husband, Christopher Swindlehurst, of Becket, recently sold the former Catholic church for $325,000 to Al-Khalil Cultural Center, according to documents on file at the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield.

Al-Khalil is registered as a Massachusetts nonprofit corporation whose officers are all from the New York City area, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State's Office. Efforts to contact representatives of Al-Khalil through attorney Dennis J. Downing of Great Barrington, who represented the group in the sale, were unsuccessful. The group's president, Soliman Ibrahim, of Astoria, N.Y., did not return a call seeking comment in time for publication.

It was not clear what the group intends to do with the building.

On Jan. 4, the company obtained a $243,750 mortgage on the property from Adams Community Bank, according to registry documents. The half-acre lot is assessed by the city of Pittsfield at $402,800. The three-story structure contains 13,988 square feet.

The Swindlehursts bought the former church in 2006 from the Diocese of Springfield and operated it as Shire City Sanctuary, a multiuse community hub that also served as studio space for artists. Ffrench, who has described herself as an "environmental textile artist," makes objects out of used clothing.

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For several years, Shire City Sanctuary also has served as the home of the "Holiday Shindy," a pre-Christmas craft sale that features handcrafted items made by local artisans. Ffrench also could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The cornerstone of the three-story church was laid in 1895, and the church officially was dedicated in 1897. The original parish of Notre Dame was the second oldest Catholic parish in Pittsfield, having separated from St. Joseph's parish in 1867.

It was considered to be the oldest French parish in Massachusetts and the second oldest in New England. Notre Dame parish purchased the site from St. Joseph's parish for $6,000 in 1874.

The original organ, built in Montreal for $2,500, was specially designed for the church.

Major renovations were made to the church building in 1941, 1958 and 1970. A fire that started among newspapers that had been stored in the basement caused about $8,000 worth of damage to the building in 1942.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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