September 5th, 2011

Kingdom Hall for Sale

Congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses run small: right around a hundred. They expect that hundred to show up frequently and part of their pattern of worship includes one night (or day) a week meeting as an even smaller group for deeper study of WTBTS publications. They've tended to build their own facilities whenever possible and, in keeping with a DIY culture, they have organized volunteer crews to build those facilities. It has not ever been uncommon for a Kingdom Hall to be retired to be replaced with a new one, but this typically did _not_ happen because a particular congregation got larger. Congregations which got big enough were instead split (not generally into two, but two might be split into three, for example). New halls have generally been built for newly settled suburban areas, to replace repurposed halls that didn't work well JWs, aging facilities and, occasionally, because the local JW population is booming and they've already got 3 congregations in each existing facility so they build a new one and let everyone spread out a bit (wedging more than 3 2 hour services in on Sundays is _hard_ -- on parking ballet if nothing else).

When I stumbled across multiple closures of purpose-built Kingdom Halls, I was a little surprised: they weren't old, they weren't going to be replaced so the most likely explanation is that, in the same way that congregations might beget new congregations, congregations can be combined when they shrink below a certain size, and money can be saved on keeping a facility active by combining congregations into a smaller number of facilities. This happened when I was growing up in parts of Seattle that depopulated in the move to the suburbs and also in parts of Seattle that became, overall, too wealthy to support the existence of JWs (JWs are very poor. Pew says so. I could tell you why, but it is boring. Let's just say they like it that way and call it good.).

Here's the first coverage I've seen by a pro-journalist that explains what happened to a particular Kingdom Hall (I'm still looking and I'll add more when I find it):

A quick look at Furnace St, Marshfield, MA suggests that the hall was there because it was close to a cloverleaf on route 3 (thus could draw from a substantial area), but not so close as to be expensive real estate. The article indicates the congregation (singular) merged with one in Rockland, 12 miles on back roads, 15 on route 3, no matter how you slice it, a half hour distance between the two halls (which explains why they both existed in the first place). Marshfield is ancient, storied and not poor; the combined size of the congregation according to the article is 110.

I would not generalize anything whatsoever from this. JWs are thin on the ground in the Northeast. Getting thinner is not unexpected.

There are, however, a scattering of Kingdom Halls up for sale on LoopNet:

That one is at 2950 Arizona Ave, Washington DC

Here's a weird one:

Photo suggests it was originally the "Philadelphia Electric Company" and had spaces upstairs and down.

That one is a very few miles from Cincinnati's CBD.

That's in Woy Woy, New South Wales, which is north of Sydney.

Here's a sample of what ex-JWs think of some of this activity:

I tend to think that if the hall is located in an area where the land is valuable, there probably aren't that many JWs living nearby anyway, and it's easy enough to tell the few dozen who are left to combine with a nearby congregation which is also small. Does this mean JWs are ending? Well, in the Northeast, sure, in richer areas, sure, in urban areas? As they gentrify, sure. Heck, they may be on their way out in the US as a whole. Do I believe that this is fundraising to defend against lawsuits the way some of the posters above think? No. But you never know.

If you would like to play this game with churches in general, you might try starting here:

apartments, condos, my sordid history, etc.

Once upon a time, when I was married to my first husband, I lived for about a year in an apartment in Seattle. It was a nice complex called "The Club at Bitter Lake". 130th got you to a freeway entrance/exit. There was a branch library in very easy walking distance. The complex had an outdoor pool, and outdoor jacuzzi and an indoor jacuzzi. We rented a 2 bedroom, 2 bath unit and had a roommate, which brought the rent ($750 for the unit, IIRC) into a manageable range (I had a job making $30ishK at a company on the east side; my husband was finishing up at college and had both health problems and a serious shopping addiction issue -- possibly both artifacts of his knowledge that I wasn't long for either the marriage or the religion). There was some chaos, I got a divorce and moved to a rental house in Ballard and eventually to a condo on Cap Hill and then swapped coasts.

I don't think it ever occurred to me to ask what was going on at that apartment complex, until I got to wondering about multifamily development in various locations. Apparently during the boom someone thought it would be a good idea to close up The Club, renovate it, and then put it back on the market as condos. The timing wasn't great, so it is back to renting, now under the name "Veridian Cove". But it's the same buildings, the same amenities, the same floor plans. Rent is just about double what it was back in the early/mid 1990s, but time passes (actually, to be completely fair, rent on the 2X2 should be under $1200 if you apply a CPI deflator -- that's housing inflation for you).

I'm feeling a little stunned by the new development up at Echo Lake, and the new YMCA nearby.