Residents mobilize to save Gothic church threatened with demolition in Kansas City, Kansas | KCUR 89.3

Few of the well-known landmarks of Kansas City, Kansas’ rich cultural history remain, and longtime member of the city’s Monuments Commission, Jim Schraeder, worries that downtown’s progress will come at the expense of an important one: the Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church.

“This is probably the last example in our city, and probably one of the few in the metropolitan area, of what they call Victorian Gothic Top architecture, ”says Schraeder, sweeping his flashlight over the vaulted ceiling, the sculpted interior trusses and the lancet stained glass windows. “Do you see the frou-frou woodwork, the gingerbread on all the vaults?”

Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3

Schraeder and other preservation advocates believe it is possible to preserve the entire church, but university officials say the entrance footprint will be larger than the area of ​​the church and that the renovation would cost too much.

The structure has been abandoned for decades and left to rot. It is on the corner of 7th St. and State Ave. in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. A chain-link fence surrounds the tall grass and weeds that have grown on the property, white paint is peeling off the eaves of the church, and a small tree grows out of the steeple, which lacks its steeple. The city’s skyline icon was destroyed in a storm in 1945 and has never been replaced.

The Tories were successful in adding the building to the local Register of Historic Places in 1986, but the Kansas City, Kansas, Land Bank took it over last year due to back taxes.

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Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3

At one time, the church tower, destroyed in a storm in the 1940s and never replaced, was an important landmark in the Kansas City, Kansas skyline.

A new day

Now, Kansas City, Kansas, Community College has offered to demolish the church. He has plans for enlarge the downtown block with a huge educational center at the cutting edge of technology.

The new facility is designed to meet the economic challenges of the community, including, high rates of poverty and unemployment.

College president Greg Mosier said officials began examining the downtown expansion about two years ago after studying population disparities in eastern and western Wyandotte County. .

“There is a 200% increase in the number of people working full time and living in poverty when we go to the eastern county,” Mosier said. “There are good jobs there, our problem is that we don’t have a skilled workforce that is ready to get and keep these jobs.

The expansion will provide vocational training in well-paying areas such as commercial construction technology and automated engineering. They will offer enveloping services from Wyandotte County Behavioral Health and the YMCA to meet persistent health disparities.

Rich history

Records indicate that the last congregation to use the church was The Faith Cornerstone Church of the Full Gospel, Inc., but it is not known when they last held their service.

Today, rather than the wooden benches that populate the church, signs of a temporary makeshift home – a double mattress, a bicycle, a child’s cowboy boot, and a winter coat – litter the ground.

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Carlos Moreno / KCUR 89.3

Town planners say the controversy over this church raises questions about the city’s approach to both historic preservation and the unsheltered. It is feared that the church served as a makeshift home for some in the months following the Land Bank takeover last year.

Subdued sunlight streams through a handful of leaded stained glass windows at the rear of the church. Above the front door, a small circular window of blue and rust glass reads “Seventh Street” in white letters.

“The stained glass is pretty much intact,” Schraeder said. “Even though the building has been abandoned, everything is very repairable.”

He argues that the history of the church is just as important to the community.

It was built by the Wyandot Indians in the mid-1800s after they were forced to leave their lands in Ohio and withdrawn from a reservation which later became Kansas City, Kansas.

In addition to the connection with the Wyandot Indians, the congregation struggled during the Civil War years as abolitionists and slave owners were among the descendants of the Wyandots.

In its early years, the church split on the issue of slavery into two separate buildings. The Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church was once the Methodist Episcopal Church on South Seventh Street.

Later, the church welcomed members of an African-American Methodist episcopal congregation.

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Kansas City, Kansas, Community College

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation ranks Wyandotte County 104th out of 105 counties in Kansas in the areas of health, social / economic factors and quality of life. The president of KCKCC believes that investing in the urban core will begin to address these challenges.

President Mosier said the university community is well aware of the architectural and historic value of Seventh Street Church and plans to showcase it. The center, almost twice the size of the White House and spanning the entire block between 6th and 7th streets. will integrate elements of the original building into a living history exhibit.

“We are going to raze this church very carefully and slowly to save a lot of the red brick, the stained glass windows, and ensure that the foundation stones are preserved,” he said.

But he said renovating and reusing it entirely would take too much of the project’s $ 70 million budget.

“There’s really no way to affordably remodel it and code it,” Mosier said. “We understand that there are different ideas of what to do with this church, but one is that it will continue to serve the community, perhaps in a different way.”

In the hands of the UG

The fate of the church ultimately rests with the United Government’s Board of Commissioners, which will have the power to accept or reject the Landmark Commission’s recommendation.

Gunnar Hand, director of urban planning and design for the United Government of Kansas City, Kansas, says it may be more difficult to save the building because it is protected only by a preservation order in Kansas City, Kansas.

“This particular property is a locally designated landmark that provides it with our scrutiny and local protections, but it’s not a state or federal landmark, which makes it a bit more complicated,” he said. declared.

Returning outside the dilapidated building, curator Schraeder says this church, in the heart of the city where Indians, Mexicans, East Europeans and African Americans have tinkered with neighboring communities over decades , can provide an educational lesson that no college class can.

“The story we have of everyone coming from all over and trying to get along and come together is embodied in the story of the people of this church,” he said. “We would do well to pay attention to how that might inform how we are moving forward.”

He says if the church is demolished, he won’t be there to watch it.


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