At the corner of Hawthorne and Cedar streets in the Highland Park section of Roxbury, Curtis Perrin stood along the sloping walkway where the former St. James African Orthodox Church sits.

The 108-year-old building’s white exterior shows evidence of neglect. Mold and mildew spots bloom along cracked, dingy asbestos shingles. Just beyond the front entrance’s crumbling concrete steps, half of a wrought-iron fence leans deep into green grass.

Perrin, an architect, said despite all that, the building has good bones.

“The church may look a little run down on the outside, but there’s really a lot of potential here, and when you can see through to what’s at the core, you realize that,” he explained.

Perrin, 48, is a member of the Highland Park Neighborhood Coalition, which has been fighting for about two years to preserve the church. At one point, he said, crews lined up at the intersection to cut the church's water and electrical lines — steps seen as sure signs the building would be demolished.

“We were all very worried that day. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Perrin recalled.

The group sprang into action to save the church after its owner, City Realty Group, announced plans to convert it into a modern housing complex with more units than zoning permits on the property. After rejecting several development proposals, neighbors launched a petition to have the building declared a landmark, appealing for help from local and state elected officials.

The effort, Perrin explained, grew from a desire to preserve the look and style of Highland Park. In the process of advocating, they learned about the building’s history.

It was designed by Edward Thomas Patrick Graham, a Boston-born architect responsible for buildings like St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the Boston School Department's former headquarters downtown.

In the Roxbury building's early days, it housed the Norwegian Evangelical Congregational Church and served as a hub for new immigrants. Then, from the mid-1950s until 2015, it was home to an African Orthodox congregation. The denomination was founded by George Alexander McGuire — a man who advocated for black Christians to have an independent church. At one point, McGuire was also a salaried member of the United Negro Improvement Association — an early pan-Africanist organization founded by Marcus Garvey.

Perrin said the effort to save the church was also a response a larger problem, what he called “an explosion of density” impacting the character of Roxbury. According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, more than 2,000 units of housing have been approved in the neighborhood between 2014 and July 2018.

“It’s displacing people. It’s changing the economic features of the neighborhood, and we’re very concerned about that because we value the connections that we have here, and we’re trying to manage that in a way that allows people to continue to lead their lives here and not be forced away,” said Perrin.

City Councilor Kim Janey, who represents Roxbury, supported the effort.

“This is a neighborhood that has seen development after development not always adhering to the wishes of residents in the community,” Janey said in an interview. “This, to me, just shows the power of residents coming together and having that strong voice and advocacy needed to move the needle.”

Earlier this month after multiple meetings, a 45-page study, and two emergency measures to shield the building, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to designate the church a city landmark.

“This would never have happened without the advocacy of the neighbors,” commission chair Lynn Smiledge said the night the agency voted. The designation now goes to Mayor Walsh and the City Council for approval. Smiledge said, once finalized, the protected status means whoever owns the church building must get approval from the commission before making changes to its exterior.

Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of Historic Boston Inc., said the nonprofit preservation group is now in talks to purchase the property.

“We felt very strongly when the community mobilized that we should pay attention to this building,” Kottaridis said. “Our feeling was that we could play an important role, using our expertise in both helping to preserve the church, but also to put it back into use for something the community needs now.”

At an August community meeting, Historic Boston officials estimated rehabbing the church will require a $6.6 million, multi-year process. In a preliminary proposal, they suggested building up to 12 new, market-rate condos on the church’s back parking lot. They’re hoping revenue from the units will help subsidize the church restoration.

Kottaridis said Historic Boston is still talking with the community about a potential mixed-use development within the church building that might feature artist work space, additional housing and perhaps performance space in what was formerly the sanctuary.

“We have made promises that we will stay in touch with the community through a task force,” she said. “We’ll be talking about what works financially in terms of our real estate proforma. But it will also be an opportunity to understand what the most meaningful parts of the building actually are and make sure that we are communicating with a small group of people who will bring messages back to the larger neighborhood about what’s evolving.”

City Realty Acquisitions Director Clifford Kensington said the company has lost money during the back-and-forth over the property, but the company is happy to have worked out a solution for its future.

“When Historic Boston approached us to purchase the building and attempt a restoration, we were thrilled and knew we had found the right partner for this extremely challenging restoration,” Kensington said in a statement. “This group is uniquely qualified to handle the difficulties of such a large-scale preservation project, and we have no doubt they will do a great job.”

As Perrin gazed at the run down, Gothic-styled church, he said he, too, is optimistic about the building’s rebirth.

“It needs definitely a lot of attention on the surface, cosmetic level, but it’s not something that’s beyond hope," he said. "There’s actually a lot of potential here, and hopefully we’ll see that realized in the months or years to come.”

Officials with Historic Boston said they expect to finalize the purchase of 50 Cedar Street in early October.