Everyone thought she was crazy. Not one person close to her thought she should do it, but Suzy Batiz is not a woman easily dissuaded from her vision. While others saw a 100-plus-year-old church in disrepair, she saw a unique home that had the potential to support her dream of hosting workshops for women.
“The Realtor even tried to talk me out of [buying] it,” she laughs. “I knew I needed to buy it. I have been obsessed with the idea of living in a church for years.”
She says she heard angels sing when she first laid eyes on the Eastside Avenue property, which was once St. John’s Methodist Church.
“It was a trolley church, they had no parking,” Batiz says. “That’s why they closed, when the trolley line went.”
In the 1950s the church boasted about 1,000 members, but by 2006 just a dozen gathered in the basement, since the rest of the church was leaky and drafty from years of neglect. It simply didn’t make financial sense, so the church closed its doors and put up a “for sale” sign that year.
Batiz wasn’t the first to have the vision of turning the church into a home. A prior owner did extensive work, adding a staggering 11.5 bathrooms and two kitchens, one of which grandly sits where the pulpit once stood, awash in a golden glow from the massive stained glass window. But it was all cosmetic enhancements; they ran out of money before they could make the house safe and functional. It went back on the market and sat for months — a property as rare as this takes just the right buyer.
“It’s such a sacred space, it has this warmth,” she says.
While Batiz had never been part of a major renovation, she didn’t hesitate in tackling the 15,000-square-foot Junius Heights property. She thrives on challenges, which is why two bankruptcies didn’t stop her from becoming the founder of a $300-million bathroom spray empire. Poo-Pourri began as a solution to a smelly problem she had with her then-husband but it grew into a cash cow, and she remains at the helm 10 years in, despite several lucrative offers to sell.
For her, the holy house was a new sort of challenge, one that inspired her creatively as she tried to find a balance between preserving the church and its unique offerings, while also making it a modern living space. It began with the basics, fixing the leaks that puddled water around the property whenever it rained — and about 100 other things that needed attention after years of disrepair.
She had the original soft pine floors repurposed, but she left the small divots made by the shoes of past parishioners. For the windows, of which there are thousands, she turned to Munger Place neighbor Tom Clark of Leeds Clark, one of the state’s top window restoration experts. It took him an entire year to repurpose the hundreds of church windows (read the Q&A on p. 41).
Nothing went to waste in the church, the back end of which was built in 1890 before the elegant cathedral front was added in 1911. Batiz repurposed even the littlest items, like the Bible holders she made into decorative planters in the soft pink “unicorn bedroom.” Or the fans she had turned into a stately conference table in her home office above the sanctuary. She even collected scrap metal pieces to fashion into artistic holders for the essential oils she uses to mix scents for Poo-Pourri.
“Most of [these projects] were done by local artists,” Batiz says. “My favorite part of this project is getting to collaborate with so many specialists. It’s a totally new type of creativity for me.”
Slowly but surely the pieces fell into place. The choir stall became an upper sitting area. The nave where parishioners once sat is a whimsical living room with a fluffy swing chair that hangs from the two-story ceiling. The church office became a sauna room.
“I did find it interesting that my bedroom was the marriage counseling office,” Batiz laughs, “especially because I was going through a divorce at the time.”
She’s big on symbolism. The reconstruction of her house clearly mirrored the new path she was forging in her own life. So much so that she named her home “The Temple of Transformation.”
“I’ve never been in a more transformative space,” she says.
It was like coming home in a way. She grew up attending church but had a rebellious falling out with her faith as a teen and young adult. Recently, she has reconnected with her religious roots.
“It’s been very sweet to be in [a church] during this process,” she says.
When it came to décor, Batiz admits her tastes tend to be more modern, but knew that wouldn’t suit the space. Instead, she worked with a designer and focused on finding antique and artisan-made items that would complement the church.
“I’m not really into antiques,” she says with one hand draped on her 19th century high-backed dining room chair. “Everything in here, it’s for the house. It’s more about a feeling than a look to me.”
It’s a feeling is already sharing with others. One of her goals is to help empower other women who might feel stuck or unable to move forward with their dreams. Participants all stay in the church, which quickly feels like a sanctuary, Batiz says. “It’s such serene space I have to share it,” she says. “I have always been interested in helping women, and there’s so much going on right now in the world for women.”
Suzy Batiz hosts “Awaken and Amplify Your Genius” April 14-17 in the Eastside Avenue church. Get the details at templeoftransformation.com.
While he’s always been into preservation, Tom Clark didn’t set out to become an expert in window restoration — it just kind of happened. But tackling a project with hundreds of windows like Suzy Batiz’s church-turned-home took an entire year and painstaking attention to detail. Having worked on the Alamo and the old Dallas High School downtown, it was just another day for Clark.
How did you get into this?
TC: I’ve been doing historic preservation work since 1978. I worked on the Main Street project with the Texas Historic Commission. They would go into little historic towns and put the store fronts back up. In the 1950s, they wanted them to look modern so they covered them all with aluminum. By the 1980s they wanted to put them back they way they were.
How did you get involved with the church?
TC: There’s not many people who do this, it’s a pretty unusual specialty.
What was the biggest challenge on this project?
TC: The monumental [stained-glass] windows in the main room. The wood frames are a lot more intricate, of course. Someone had tried to repair them. But they used Bondo, like you’d use for your car. We had to strip it down to the bare wood then repair where it was needed. We finished it with putty glaze and paint. I’d hate to pay their electricity bill.
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