Portsmouth’s historic Black Church, where MLK visited, is up for sale again

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PORTSMOUTH — Listed again for just under $1.5 million, the Granite State’s first black-owned church is back on the market for the second time in less than a year, and a nonprofit local profit is considering making an offer to buy it.

The Seacoast African American Cultural Center, currently located on Middle Street at the Discover Portsmouth Center, is in the early stages of exploring whether it should purchase “The Pearl,” a New Hampshire Black Heritage Trail landmark and member of both New Hampshire and National Registers of Historic Places.

Built in 1851, the pink steeple church at 45 Pearl St. in Portsmouth’s West End was re-listed this week at $1.49million.

“Of course, it would be wonderful for an organization like SAACC, or one like it, to take over this historic building,” Sandi Clark Kaddy, president of the nonprofit, said in a prepared statement. “Our goal has always been to increase our impact on the community.

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Sandi Clark Kaddy, president of the Seacoast African American Cultural Center in Portsmouth, explains an exhibit that highlights the Black Lives Matter movement in New Hampshire, during a visit Thursday, October 14, 2021.

Perhaps the Pearl’s greatest fame came in October 1952, when the church hosted a Boston University theology student named Martin Luther King Jr. to preach at the site. The civil rights pioneer’s future wife, Coretta Scott, was also in The Pearl that night, as she was a soloist in the choir that traveled to Portsmouth from Malden, Massachusetts.

City real estate broker Karen Bouffard, who listed the property, said another nonprofit worked with her for several months in 2021 and was in the process of buying the property, but a deal never came to fruition. Used as office space by a handful of members of MIG Express, a freight-hauling company, Bouffard said the church was taken off the market at the start of winter because the owners, Paisan Properties LLC, did not didn’t have time to move. in case of sale.

Previous story:The Pearl for sale: NH’s first black-owned church listed in Portsmouth for $1.5m

“There are a lot of them, there is a lot of space there. It’s not a cramped environment. It’s a big building. It is in very good condition,” Bouffard said of the church. “It has fire protection conditions. Many bones are there to do other things. Maybe there is someone who has an office and is looking for a really creative space.

The city’s last valuation for the church was $690,200. City property records show Paisan Properties LLC purchased the church in November 2014 from its previous owners for $625,000.

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“Original tin ceilings, pillars and balconies blend with updated kitchens and bathrooms,” reads an online listing for the Pearl. “Lots of updates including central air conditioning and a sprinkler system. Very flexible floor plan with room to grow.

The Pearl’s online listing says the building has three units in total and spans 0.08 acres.

“I just wish it was in good hands,” Bouffard said.

MIG Express now has just five staff members working inside the church, a fraction of the staff who worked there in person. Many have shifted to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, Bouffard said.

“You could literally go today and have a church service today by moving the offices,” she added.

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The Pearl was built by the Free Will Baptist Congregation and extended to include its steeple and entrance bay in 1868. Black members of the Seaman’s Aid Society purchased the building in 1915 after the Free Will Baptist Church merged with Middle Street Baptist Church and left the spacer.

The People’s Baptist Church later took it over, although its congregation reorganized as the New Hope Baptist Church in the second half of the 20th century. The congregation then sold the building in 1984 and moved to Peverly Hill Road, which is home to the current New Hope Baptist Church.

At one time, the Pearl housed the now defunct 72 Restaurant, and has since been periodically used as a wedding venue.

“For decades this was the heart of the social, political and spiritual life of Black Portsmouth,” reads a plaque which hangs outside the church.

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