This Church-Turned-House Is Also Unwillingly a Pokémon Gym

Owner Boon Sheridan says groups of people are congregating outside of his home in Holyoke.

Photo provided by Boon Sheridan

Photo provided by Boon Sheridan

While designer Boon Sheridan and his wife were on the hunt for a unique place to live last year, they found the perfect home in a former church in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Some idiosyncrasies were to be anticipated while living in the former Victorian-style church, but Sheridan did not expect throngs of people, all staring at their phones, to begin congregating outside of his home.

The people flocking to Sheridan’s house this week are not admiring its original stained glass windows, though—they’re playing the newly released Pokémon GO mobile game. In the game, players aim their phones at areas around them to search for Pokémon in the real world. Then, they battle and train the Pokémon in “gyms,” which in reality are landmark-type places for people to gather. (For example, there are multiple gyms in the Common.) Sheridan’s 1880s-era home is one of those gyms in the app.

It was only when he downloaded the Pokémon GO game on Friday that Sheridan noticed his own home was labeled a Pokémon battleground.

“The last thing I remember before I went to sleep was, ‘It looks like there’s a gym on top of the house. That can’t be right. Ah, whatever.’ So I just closed the app and went to bed,” he says.

But as Sheridan was standing in the kitchen Saturday morning, he noticed three people hanging out on the sidewalk in front of his house.

“The only way I can describe this is—Have you ever seen people standing near each other, but who clearly aren’t together?” says Sheridan. “The three of them were together but just awkwardly spaced enough that it was clear they weren’t there with each other. And they’re all looking through their phones at the house.”

Remembering his previous confusion about the Pokémon GO app, Sheridan realized he was looking out the window at a few Pokémon trainers. Unbeknownst to him, his house had been officially labeled as a gym. He took to Twitter to chronicle the phenomenon.

Sheridan and his cat watch from a window. / Photo provided by Boon Sheridan

Sheridan and his cat / Photo provided by Boon Sheridan

Throughout the day, more trainers showed up. They came out in droves, all intently staring at Sheridan’s house through their phone screens. He began to count the amount of people who were coming and going, finally stopping when he got to 30 people. When cars started pulling up, idling for 7 or 8 minutes, and then leaving, Sheridan counted them, too. He stopped at 20 cars.

“It was never a huge crush of folks, but it was consistent,” he says.

Private homes aren’t typically where gyms are meant to exist, though churches are common spots for them (apparently, several synagogues on Beacon Street are also gyms). The thing is, mass hasn’t been held on Sheridan’s property for quite some time—a church inhabited the space 40 years ago. Sheridan says the building was converted into a private residence in the 1970s.

“Basically, everyone in the neighborhood, for quite a while, has known it’s been a house,” he says. “But if you didn’t live here and drove past, you would certainly look at it and go ‘Oh wow, what an amazing church.'”

A cast iron fence envelops the property, so trainers aren’t able to get too up close and personal with the gym. Sheridan says no one has attempted to walk up the driveway or open any gates. 

“Everyone has been super respectful of the space… and fun and friendly,” he says, adding many players have been able to get a signal for the gym at the park across the street from the house. 

He’s chatted with players who have stopped by, and even has met John, the gym owner. Sheridan says he delights in the irony of having both a physical and a virtual owner for the property.

While most of the foot traffic took place on Saturday, Sheridan says he met a few players who admitted to coming by the house earlier in the week when the game first launched. He explains he was probably too busy to notice the visitors at first.

Sheridan happens to be no stranger to unique homes. Before moving to Holyoke, he and his wife lived in a converted convenience store in Everett, which admittedly had fewer onlookers.

For the most part, Sheridan isn’t bothered by the Pokemon trainers, although a few cars have blocked the driveway, and some visitors have arrived well past 11 p.m. He says he’ll reach out to the game maker once the app’s popularity dies down, and explains that the game’s website says it is currently only addressing gyms where danger occurs. He plans to suggest moving the gym to the park across the street.

But until then?

“(My wife and I) will keep playing. We’re having fun with it. It’s a perfect location for this to have happened because we know the game, we play the game, and neither of us has a problem with strangers,” he says.

“It’s more fascinating and fun than it is inconveniencing. I’m more inconvenienced by the neighborhood skunks than I am by 30 to 40 people coming by and spending a few minutes in front of my house.”