The site of R.E.M.’s first ever show is a church locals have fought hard to preserve.
On April 5th, 1980, R.E.M. played their first ever show in the chapel of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which had been converted from a house of worship to an arts and events space (guitarist Peter Buck lived here as well).
Little did anyone involved know that in a few short years, R.E.M. would become rock’s biggest band, selling out stadiums around the world.
In 1990, the chapel and church were demolished to make room for the construction of condominiums. Only the St. Mary Steeple was left standing. The Steeplechase Condominium owners, per the deed, were required to keep up the maintenance and structural integrity of the so-called R.E.M. Steeple.
A fire at the “Rick the Printer” shop next door in 2011 caused the city to examine the steeple more closely and determined that it was in danger of collapsing. The city informed Steeplechase Condominiums to stabilize or demolish the structure.
In 2013, Nuci’s Space, a local suicide prevention non-profit, acquired the steeple from the condo owners. Through donations and fundraisers, the steeple was rehabilitated and stabilized. About 2,000 bricks were removed from the steeple during the rehab process and Nuci’s Space is selling them to fund operations.
It’s easy to visit the steeple, just park in the condo’s parking lot. The steeple is easily visible from the street as well. You can’t go inside the steeple, though.
The building that housed “Rick the Printer” is next door and is a landmark of sorts as well. Many bands, including R.E.M., printed flyers here. It was also a hangout for students and arty types, especially since Rick brought the first espresso machine to Athens in the 70’s! Unfortunately, it appears the that there was no recovering from fire; that building is abandoned.