Born Again: Two Century-old Louisiana Churches Find New Life as Twin Steeples Cultural Center | Arts


Two churches, each more than a century old, have been born again.

Shot so that they now face each other, the former Lutheran and Presbyterian churches will be known as the Twin Steeples Creative Arts Center in Ponchatoula.

The center, 220 E. Oak St., will open on December 30 with a celebration of art, music and food from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

All that will be missing is Harry Gabriel, the driving force behind the creation of the center. The artist, adventurer, landscape designer and philanthropist died of leukemia in March.

A walk through the 1901 Twin Steeples Creative Arts Center building in Ponchatoula. Staff video by Robin Miller

This is the sad part of this story.

But Twin Steeples board chairman Kim Zabbia made Gabriel’s dream come true. There is still some landscaping around the brick courtyard connecting the entrances to the churches, but everything else is ready.

Zabbia, also an artist, showed the center, noting that part of the space is already showcasing the work of locally connected artists, painter Matthew Moore and photographer Robby Klein.

She also described how the center will be used as a venue for music and performing arts, as well as a space for art classes.

The past

The two old churches are located on the same block, but face different streets. In 2019, Gabriel bought one of the buildings, a former Lutheran church built in 1901, with the idea of ​​making it a cultural center.

His brother, John Gabriel, an architect in Houston, recalled his LSU architecture thesis of the property he had compiled 45 years earlier. The thesis documented the neighboring Presbyterian Church and how the two churches, although not identical, share a similar conception.

Zabbia said the Presbyterian Church was believed to have been built in 1879, but recent records show the building opened as a Methodist Episcopal Church in 1893, later changing hands with the Presbyterian congregation. .

“Our brochures say 1879, but we’re going with 1893,” she said. “And people still call both buildings the Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church, but we’re going to call them 1901 and 1893.”

The Twin Steeples Creative Arts Center, 220 E. Oak St., Ponchatoula, will open on December 30 with an art exhibit and live performances.

John Gabriel’s old thesis project showed that the two churches faced each other, connected by a brick courtyard.

“It was Harry’s brother’s thesis that started it all,” Zabbia said.

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During this time, Harry Gabriel began speaking at an arts center Presbyterian Church. Young church minister Aaron Gordon was pondering a similar idea.

Gordon is a musician and had invited other musicians to perform in the excellent acoustics of the Old Presbyterian Church.

“Aaron had used this church once a month for music and some art exhibitions,” Zabbia said. “There was a bunch of people getting together and doing stuff, so Aaron was hooked on the idea. He spoke to his congregation, of which Harry and all his family were a part, and they decided to sell for a dollar. . “

The Lutheran church had been empty since the mid-1960s, when the doors were closed by its declining congregation. It served as a photography studio and then as a private residence before Gabriel bought it.

“The crazy thing is you have these two churches standing on the same block for over 100 years, and they have never met,” Zabbia said. “Until now.”

Thus, Harry Gabriel created a non-profit company, with a detailed budget. Zabbia, who is also the wife of Ponchatoula mayor Robert Zabbia, started fundraising for the center, while Harry Gabriel matched every dollar donated with his.

Finally, four hydraulic carts showed up on January 21 to rotate the two churches face to face to become the Twin Steeples Creative Arts Center.

Both buildings are structurally sound, although some hardwood floors had to be replaced in the old Lutheran church, and its interior converted from a residential space to its original open sanctuary.

The future

Zabbia and the rest of the board have already scheduled performances and art exhibitions for 2022, but the grand opening on December 30 is their priority. The event will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., featuring dancers Cassidy Fulmer and Mercedes Mize, live music by Avery Meyers and TJ Barends, and fusion dance company Innovative Soul.

“We had a smooth opening in November, but we want December 30 to be our anniversary,” Zabbia said. “I have the visual artists for the whole year, which is almost 20 people. We’re trying to have that many local artists to start with, who live here or are from here or Louisiana. I want to push our local artists, and it will be a combination of visual and stage artists and musicians. “

Zabbia added that the center will also organize monthly events for children.

“There are still so many details to work out,” she said. “Even after the grand opening, there will be work to be completed. It’s a $ 600,000 construction project, and we raised around $ 150,000 last year, but I think Harry’s estate will cover all of it. construction. But I see us going full steam ahead by the summer. “

As for Harry Gabriel, his leukemia had been in remission for 10 years before returning in 2021.

A look at the Twin Steeples Creative arts Center, which opens its doors on December 30 in Ponchatoula. Staff video by Robin Miller

“He said he wanted me to help him create this arts center,” Zabbia said. “I said, ‘Oh, I will’. I mean, people have ideas for artistic stuff, and they bring them to me to make them happen. But he said, “You are really going to help me.” And I said, ‘Harry, I’m not going to do this for you. You’ll get there, and I’ll help you. ‘

And he did.

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