Fearful of potential future development, the 122nd Street Block Association is working to landmark the Second Friendship Baptist Church—a 19th-century, Victorian-style carriage house in central Harlem.
But one big question hangs over the preservationists’ efforts—who owns the building? After all, the church has sat empty for years, as its leaders have slowly passed away and a 2006 fire severely damaged the building.
“From what I’ve understood in the past, no one is exactly sure who owns this building,” Cator Sparks, president of the 122nd Street Block Association, said. “Someone’s uncle’s brother owns it but could never get it sold—we’re not really sure how it’s going through the steps of being sold.”
According to city records, the Second Friendship Baptist Church owns the building. But the organization’s address is listed as a house in Edison, New Jersey. Calls to the New Jersey branch of Friendship Ministries, the successor to Second Friendship, were not returned.
The latest property record is of a $10,000 mortgage transferred by the church to a man named Raymond Staggers in 1992. Reverend Harry Bligen, who represented the church in the transaction, died in 1993, several records show.
Then there is a mysterious man—who block association member Cindy Worley said “seemed to be the one in charge of whatever is going on with the building.”
Worley declined to give the name of the man.
According to Worley, the man had expressed interest in the building’s preservation, attended some block meetings, and even repainted the façade after it was damaged in the 2006 fire.