Church revival: Tremont residents renovate 1910 church to create unique event space

A remarkable transformation is taking place at 1415 Kenilworth Ave. in Tremont. After serving its community as a place of worship for a century, and sitting vacant for the past seven years, Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church is finding new life as The Elliot.

Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church 1949The Elliot is scheduled to open in late July. In its reborn form, the former church will be a sophisticated event venue providing two separate spaces that can accommodate up to 400 guests with full-service catering.

In certain respects, the former church’s new life won’t be so different from its old life. After several years of silence, it will once again resound to music and laughter and the warmth of large gatherings, again an anchor for its neighborhood and a draw for others farther away.

Owners and Tremont residents Stephanie and Tim Ridgely are transforming the 112-year-old church—renovating the building while preserving the historic architecture and memories created by past generations while aiming to create new memories.

“The Elliot will be a successful event venue because of its character, amenities, and location,” says Stephanie Ridgely, who has a 16-year history in event planning. “My goal for The Elliot is to become a premier destination for weddings, private events, corporate pirates/conferences, community gatherings—you name it.”

The church opened in 1910 and served Rusyn immigrants and the Tremont community. It remained open until 2009 and closed briefly due to low membership. Bishop John Kudrick then reopened the building that same year as the Byzantine Catholic Cultural Center before it closed permanently in 2015.

“After sitting vacant for seven years, I am excited to renovate this building, save it from being torn down, and give it another 100 years to be enjoyed by the community,” says Ridgley.

Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church is finding new life as The Elliot.After the Ridgelys saw the former church was for sale in 2020, Stephanie says she saw the potential and the couple purchased the building and began demolition in July 2021.

Stephanie will run the event business, while Tim handles the real estate side of the project.

Dimit Architects is creating a modern design that will embrace the building's historic architecture. The north facade is being restored to its original condition and the stained-glass windows in the bell towers have been restored. Ridgley says a mix of the original and custom stained glass was installed in the rose window late last month and stained glass from the main hall has been included in the design of the lower-level bar, which will be known as the Rosehip Room—named for the roship's prevalence in the eastern and central European Carpathian Mountains.

Designed for cocktail hours, art shows, and open mic nights, the Rosehip Room is equipped with a built-in stage and a 27-foot quartz bar featuring the building’s original stained glass.

The new more-rhan-10.000 square foot event center will include the first-floor ballroom with an eight-foot Swarovski crystal chandelier, a 27-foot quartz bar, and an open floor plan. Ridgley says the barrel-vaulted ceiling provides excellent acoustics. The ballroom is built into the church belltowers and has two private suites with the original stained glass and operable bells.

“The most important aesthetic details we saved are the barrel-vaulted ceiling, original front doors, stained glass, basement stage, and the bell tower bell,” says Ridgely, who adds these details were crucial to the preservation.

“Restoring the ceiling helped to keep the building’s character and celebrate its historic character,” she says. “Keeping the front doors was important to us because we wanted to restore as much of the front of the building as possible.”

Ridgley explains that preserving the front doors was difficult because the wood had at least 10 coats of paint—which made it virtually impossible to strip them uniformly to bare wood for staining.

The church opened in 1910 and served Rusyn immigrants and the Tremont community.Holy Ghost history
Holy Ghost was originally built to serve a congregation of Ruthenian Catholics, coming from a region in the western Ukraine bordering the Carpathian Mountains. Falling under the rule of Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the First World War, large numbers of Ruthenians immigrated to Cleveland.

They sought work in local industry and were quick to reestablish their religious traditions here.

Father Emil Burik led the task of creating a new church in 1910. The building was designed by architect Marion E. Wells.

Wells, a native of Coolville, Ohio was born in 1869 and moved to Cleveland in 1906. He was responsible for the design of eight buildings constructed in the area between 1907 and 1917. More than a century later, half of them survive.

From its opening in 1910, Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church served as an anchor for the community. The church saw its share of weddings, funerals, baptisms, and first communions. It could accommodate 1,100 worshippers and was notable for an iconostasis, or icon screen, made in Budapest in 1924. The screen separated the nave from the altar and included depictions of 48 saints.

“Tremont has the highest concentration of churches within one square mile, 20 in all,” says Ridgely. “While weekends are packed with ceremonies, venues large enough to accommodate groups above 80 people are limited. The Elliot will encourage wedding parties to stay in Tremont, bringing more people to our small businesses. “

The church’s interior saw significant renovation in 1955 when a new marble altar was installed, and a lighter color scheme was chosen.

Changing demographics began to affect the congregation in the late 20th Century. Shrinking neighborhoods impacted churches across the city as Cleveland’s population dropped from a high of 900,000 to its present level of 374,000. Churches that were mainstays of their neighborhoods for generations were shuttered when their congregations drifted away.

This fate held true with Holy Ghost. But instead of a date with the wrecking ball, the church was granted a new life with the Elliot—with the Ridgelys taking great care to preserve the original features wherever possible.

The real test is coming soon as the Elliot prepares to welcome its first guests on July 21, 2022. Ridgely says she thinks guest will approve, based on early reaction.

“I love the look on people’s faces when they walk into the ballroom, not realizing how big the space is from outside,” she says. “We are both Tremont residents and are thrilled to give back to the community in this way.”

May the event prove a great success and inspire other equally well thought out examples of historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

Ridgely says a grand opening gala is planned at the Elliot on Friday, Aug. 12 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Music will be provided by The Element, as well as drinks, heavy  hors d'oeuvres, and dessert. Early bird tickets prices (through June 30)  are $50 for general admission and includes two drink tickets; and $75 for VIP, which includes open bar and valet. Click here to purchase tickets. 

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.