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Updated: June 2, 2023

New life for historic Lubec church acquired for $85,000

church with open dor and seats on grass Courtesy / Geno Geng Nantucket transplant Geno Geng and his contractor, Jason Spencer, transformed an 1846 church in Lubec into a wedding and events venue.

There once was a man from Nantucket in love with an old church in Lubec.

While not quite the perfect fit for a limerick, that old church was a worthwhile purchase and renovation project for Geno Geng, who recently opened it as a boutique wedding and reception space for up to 100 people.

person looking up at stencil
Courtesy / Geno Geng
Geno Geng eyes original stenciling on the church’s ceiling.

“It’s been an unbelievable project,” Geng told Mainebiz.

Constructed in 1846 at 23 School St. as an Episcopal and Methodist church, the building is located in Lubec’s historic district. Now named the Old Church, the building and grounds include a Victorian home with a salt water heated underground pool and outdoor entertaining area with a gas fire pit, a private studio apartment with its own hot tub, and a penthouse bridal suite situated above the Old Church hall with views of Campobello Island. The compound can sleep up to 17 people.

Early in his career, Geng was a painting contractor and also went to film school. For 30 years, he  lived in Nantucket, where he owned and ran a television channel.

torn open wall with picture
Courtesy / Geno Geng
When Geng and Spencer removed old tin panels, they discovered original trompe-l'œil stenciling underneath.

He also used to come to Downeast Maine with a fishing buddy during the summer. He discovered Eastport and bought a couple of houses there. 

Then he decided to start a channel in Machias, too. Called Genotv, it was the umbrella website for both TV17 Nantucket and the 26 towns of Downeast TV channel 5, broadcasting out of Machias.

“It was fun to do,” he said.

In 2004, he bought a house in Lubec, next to the church. Lubec has been his home since then. In 2020, he closed down Genotv and retired from broadcasting.

hall with wood floor and seats
Courtesy / Geno Geng
Geng wanted to restore the hall rather than make it into residential space.

But he had long had an eye on the church.

“The church was sitting there and it looked pretty beat up,” he said.

For many years, he told the owner he’d be interested in buying it. 

“I wasn’t sure what I would do with it,” he said. “I just wanted it. I didn’t want someone to tear it down.”

In 2020, he struck a deal with the owner and sold his Nantucket condominium to buy the church for $85,000 and to restore it as a self-financed project.

church and stairs
Courtesy / Geno Geng
Geng and Spencer worked on the project for two years.

The decision to create a wedding and events venue came naturally.

“I wanted to restore the hall,” said Geng. “I didn’t want to make it into condos or living space. I didn’t think it deserved that. It’s so beautiful in there.”

Geng carried out the restoration with Machias contractor Jason Spencer. 

The first job was to install a two-bedroom condominium in the attic, above the main hall. Geng and Spencer first brought in heavy laminated veneer lumber beams to create a structure for the flooring. 

decrepit exterior
Courtesy / Geno Geng
The church was pretty beat up when Geng bought it.

“Even though we put those down, it was still too bouncy,” Geng said. “At that point, I decided to call an engineer from Nantucket I’ve known for years. He helped go through the project.”

The engineer advised reinforcing the floor with steel. 

“That meant we would be putting in four 2,000-pound steel I-beams in the hall underneath,” he said. “We had to build footings in the basement for the steel beams. It was incredible.”

The partners managed the heavy beams by recruiting a nearby firewood contractor who had a logging truck, which was used to hoist the steel into the church through the front door. The beams were rolled into position on rollers, then an engine hoist was used to pick them up and “Lincoln log” them into position, using temporary cribbing to support the beams as they went up.

“I can’t believe it now when I look back at it,” he said. “But I was in this zone; I was just going to get this done. I didn’t care what it took.”

With the attic floor stabilized, they opened up the space upstairs and found the structure to be in great condition.

attic under construction
Courtesy / Geno Geng
The attic space before.

“It was built in the 1840s and the beams had never seen water,” he said. “It was all hand-hewn, dry as a bone.”

They installed a dormer roof and created a second entrance accessed by a two-story spiral staircase that Geng found online. 

“We finished the apartment — put on a deck, nice bathrooms, very swanky,” he said.

Then work began on the downstairs main hall, which had been restored sometime around the early 1900s, said Geng. That earlier restoration included installing tin panels on the ceilings and walls. Geng and Spencer removed the tin and found trompe-l'œil stenciling underneath. 

apartment space
Courtesy / Geno Geng
The attic space was turned into an apartment.

They kept one section of stenciling that was in good shape as a feature of the hall, rebuilt the roof and all of the windows, refinished the cherry floor, painted the exterior and installed a large back door.

Additional installations included a small catering kitchen, an ADA-compliant bathroom, and lighting and sound systems. Amenities include a tent for the backyard. 

“It’s ready to go,” said Geng, who held a soft opening last summer to show off the venue to the local community. 

All told, the project took two years. 

Geng just launched a website about a month ago to start marketing the compound, which consists of the church hall, the apartment upstairs, a studio apartment behind a nearby garage and the Victorian house, with a pool, that was his first acquisition in 2004.

He’s received a couple of inquiries so far.

“My hope is that the wedding thing takes off,” he said. “And we can do all kinds of local things here — shows, events, concerts.”

He added, “This is Lubec — it’s hard to find. I’m thinking that, if you’re willing to drive to this beautiful place, we should make it worth your while. I’m not competing at the prices that other venues have.”

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June 6, 2023

Geng has passion and vision. Grateful to folks who take the time to restore and rebuild beautiful buildings like this. Please update to include his website! I'd love to have an event there.

June 2, 2023

I had no idea at the scope of this project. You are to be commended on having seen the beauty of this old building. But Nantucket has helped train your eye to saving old structures. Well played, my man.

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