A Closer Look at Dina’s Dwellings
The Town Clock CDC’s main project, Dina’s Dwellings, provides affordable housing options for female victims of domestic violence and their children. Working with Bergen County United Way/Madeline Housing Corporation, Town Clock CDC hopes to make a meaningful difference in the lives of women. The First Reformed Church of New Brunswick will host Dina’s Dwellings through a reconfiguration of the church’s sanctuary. When the church was built in 1812, it was meant to hold a congregation of over one thousand. When Rutgers University was founded as Queen’s College, Convocation was held at the First Reformed Church. Due to its importance in the past, the First Reformed Church is listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. However, its congregation today must fight for relevance amidst a much smaller membership and increasing facility costs. Through the Town Clock CDC, Dina’s Dwellings will let the church use its extra space to help a population in dire need of assistance.
The four story building has been converted into apartments, multipurpose community space, and a smaller sanctuary for the First Reformed Church. Principal architect Jeff Venezia of DIGroup Architecture, AIA created a plan which maximizes space while respecting the historic structure. The apartments, known as Dina’s Dwellings, include 2 two-bedroom, 1 one-bedroom and 7 studio/efficiency units.
The sanctuary reconfiguration is a one-of-a-kind effort which involves the cooperation of multiple community stakeholders, setting a new standard for small congregations inhabiting large structures. With Dina’s Dwellings paving the way, the Town Clock CDC hopes to create a new paradigm for other communities to follow.
Who Was Dina?
Dina Van Bergh was an important woman in the history of New Brunswick. She came to New Brunswick from Amsterdam with her husband, Dr. John Frelinghuysen the pastor of First Reformed Church who died shortly after her arrival in 1786. Her strength and spirituality attracted the attention of Dr. Jacob Hardenbergh who courted and later married her. After Hardenbergh’s death, Dina continued to be an important spiritual leader in New Brunswick.
Her resolve in times of difficulty and service to the community reminds First Reformed Church of its historic roots. Her namesake is an inspiration for this project, which will provide homes for women who fight for a better life for themselves and their families.
Why Here? Why Now?
In 1971, a man set fire to the Sanctuary of First Reformed Church, angry that the Church was providing sanctuary to his partner who was a victim of abuse. The fire destroyed much of the historic sanctuary, including the chancel area and most of the historic stained glass windows. Over the past few years, the congregation of the First Reformed Church has diminished in number. Though a still a vibrant community, they no longer have the resources to maintain a historic building of the church’s size. The fire’s destruction and the dwindling congregation numbers could be seen as signs of a church that is at the end of its days. However, they can also be the catalyst for many new opportunities.
Concerned congregation members and community leaders came up with a creative solution to address their problems in a way which could help solve a greater social issue, one which affected their own church. While some faith based organizations support and fund affordable housing and adaptive reuse efforts, the Town Clock CDC will be the first to integrate affordable housing into a sanctuary space. Though the church was originally destroyed for providing sanctuary for a victim of abuse, its rebuilding will ensure that the space is used to permanently as a worship space while providing sanctuary for survivors of domestic violence.
The Town Clock, located in the steeple of the First Reformed Church, is owned, operated and maintained by the city of New Brunswick. However, it is physically located inside of the church. With that spirit, the Town Clock CDC hopes to use the facilities of the historic First Reformed Church to provide direction for the greater community of New Brunswick. When the resources of the public, private and faith-based realms are combined, great things are possible.