First African New Church (Church of the New Jerusalem)
This neighborhood church was built in 1896 for the city’s first African American congregation of the New Church.
By 1846, a Swedenborgian, or New Church, congregation was fully established in Washington, and by 1858, the congregation had built a church just north of the Capitol. After that structure burned in 1889, the church built both a national church on 16th Street and this separate African American church near U Street, on the lot of an old frame chapel that had been moved to the site in 1879.
Paul Johann Pelz, the associate architect of the national church and one of the city’s most prominent architects, also designed the African New Church. The brick building is far more modest than the imposing stone national church, but similar in some respects, including its picturesque massing, corner tower, and Romanesque Revival detail. The layout reflects specific New Church doctrine, with a lower sanctuary for baptism and instruction, and an upper sanctuary for worship.
In 1905, the People’s Seventh Day Adventist Church purchased the building. It was the city’s first African American congregation of that denomination as well, although by the 1930s it had become the People’s Seventh Day Baptist Church (remaining until about 1960). Both churches reflect the growing segregation of the city at the turn of the century and the emergence of separate African American institutions in the U Street area.
DC Inventory: July 24, 2003
National Register: January 29, 2009