If you’ve ever explored Phoenix, you’re aware of the architectural mix of old-storied buildings and modern developments. Possibly no other singular structure tells the story of the mix of old and new as The Monroe Abbey, a former Baptist church that was destroyed by a fire in the mid-'80s. Now, the establishment is undergoing a transformation to keep its early 20th-century exterior intact, while cleaning up the inside to hopefully host open-air events inside the roofless shell.
Prior to the restoration kicking off at Monroe Street Abbey, a lucky couple was able to plan a wedding inside the crusty, crumbly old building that dates back to 1929. A gathering of local bar and restaurant pros, their wedding was one full of celebration and simple design in not-so-simple spaces.
We recently reached out to photographer, née storyteller, Jamie Allio for the 411 on this wedding; because really, why get married in a church when you can get married in church ruins?
Words + Photography by Jamie Allio
Tell us a little bit about this wedding.
If you were to describe the ultimate wedding that would perfectly exemplify the community and the pride of the city of Phoenix, this would be it. The couple have both individually and as a pair been deeply involved in the restaurant and bar industry here in the Valley
This development made for a very lively group of attendees, as well as a ton of help from co-workers turned friends, many of whom have coincidentally become creative business owners that played huge parts in creating this dream event as vendors for the day.
Give us a little background on the couple...
Billy and Grace met when she interviewed him for a position with a new restaurant concept in central Phoenix. They actually spent much of their time together at first butting heads, but that soon turned into a deep admiration of each other's differences.
Billy comes from a private school, frat boy kind of background while Grace has always walked to the beat of her own drum, and even spent a good portion of time as the lead singer in a famous metal band. The couple is self-proclaimed nerds and got engaged over a 2-day intense game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Why did the couple choose this location and venue?
Both the ceremony and reception venues have always been 'off limits'.
The First Baptist Church has been unused and virtually untouched until this past year since it burned down in the early 90s. It's now owned by a local non-profit that gave the couple access, making it the first and most likely last time the space will be used for an event now that plans are being made to refurbish the space which is now being called, The Abby.
The music venue, Crescent Ballroom, where the reception was held, is a local gem and one of the most popular spots in the entire valley. The bride spent a few years managing it and its sister bar/music venue, Valley Bar, and to this day both spaces have remained unavailable for public and private events alike.
The bride will be partnering with the owner of these hotspots when they open a new bar together this Spring. Because of their close relationship and now partnership, Grace and Billy were given access to the entire Venue for their ceremony. Again, likely the first and last for this space.
What made each venue/backdrop ideal for what the couple wanted to capture on film on such a special weekend?
The Abby is breathtaking, largely due to its:
- The amount of wear and tear it endured over time
The spacious area in the center of this abandoned wedding venue remains roofless which created the perfect light and backdrop at every angle. Much of the building remains off-limits, but we were able to access each level and even the rooftop for photos.
The absence of windows, paint, and even flooring in many areas actually added to the images and to the overall feeling that we were standing in a very sacred space filled with history and raw beauty. The bride was wise to bring in the minimum amount of decor, so as to not take away from the character and integrity of the structure of the church. She only incorporated minimal items into the design of the reception, including:
- A handful of small rugs
- A DIY arch
- Simple benches with a light amount of greenery lining the walkway
Crescent is already a beautiful, intimate venue but the bride styled the space brilliantly, by adding:
- Streamed lights
- Gorgeous florals
- Two cow skulls in front of the couple's dining area on stage as a focal point
Are there any standout features of the property that are can't miss photo ops?
The distance between the two venues is one city block, so we took advantage of this by taking our time walking to the reception and stopping along the way to capture the couple in front of a few colorful spots.
I really wanted to showcase how beautiful even the most mundane parts of downtown are and made it a point to only take photos at this time in front of 'everyday places', like the auto shop behind the music venue and a gate in front of some condos across the street. Simple, and possibly even boring locations otherwise, but with a freshly married, good-looking couple in the mix they turned into gorgeous backdrops.
Any fun stories or moments that stand out from the day?
The couple kept everything very true to who they are throughout the entire day, which became most evident after the formal dances had finished. The DJ turned up the volume, Andrew WK's 'Party Hard' blasted from the speakers and a mosh pit ensued in the middle of the dance floor to get the night's festivities off to a great start.
To follow the journey of the reinvention of this cool, abandoned Downtown Phoenix church, you might want to check out the nonprofit Housing Opportunities Center. This group is leading the restoration of the exterior and vying for a way to turn the interior into a gathering space for concerts and events that celebrate the local scene. You know we’re all about supporting a good gathering space!