By LAURA ZIEGLER
Kansas News Service
There are few well-known, remaining monuments to the rich cultural
history of Kansas City, Kansas, and Jim Schraeder, a longtime member of
the city’s Landmarks Commission, worries downtown progress will come at
the expense of a significant one: the Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal
“This is probably the last example in our city, and probably one of the few in the Metropolitan area, of what they call High Victorian Gothic architecture,”
Schraeder explains, sweeping his flashlight over the vaulted ceiling,
carved interior trusses and lancet stained glass windows. “See the
frou-frou woodwork, the gingerbread on all the arches?”
The structure has been abandoned for decades and allowed to decay. It
sits at 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, the white paint is peeling from the eaves of the
church and a small tree grows out of the bell tower, which is missing
its steeple. The icon of the city’s skyline was destroyed in a storm in
1945 and never replaced.
Preservationists succeeded 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 because of back
A new day
Now, the Kansas City, Kansas, Community College has proposed demolishing the church. It has plans to expand on the downtown block with a massive, state-of-the-art educational center.
The new facility is designed to address the community’s economic challenges, notably, the high rates of poverty and unemployment.
President Greg Mosier says officials began looking at the downtown
expansion about two years ago after studying disparities between the
population in eastern and western Wyandotte County.
“There is a
200% increase in people who are working full time and living in poverty
when we go to the eastern side of the county,” Mosier said. “There are
great jobs out there. Our problem is we don’t have a skilled work force
that is ready to obtain and maintain those jobs.”
will offer job training in high-wage fields like commercial construction
technology and automated engineering. They’ll offer wrap-around
services from Wyandotte County Behavioral Health and the YMCA to address
persistent health disparities.
indicate the last congregation to use the church was The Faith
Cornerstone Church of the Full Gospel, Inc., but it’s unclear when they
held their last service.
Today, rather than wooden pews populating
the church, the signs of a temporary makeshift home — a double
mattress, a bicycle, a child’s cowboy boot and a winter coat — litter
Muted sunlight comes through a handful of the leaded stained glass
windows in the back of the church. Above the entry door, a small
circular window in blue and rust-colored glass reads “Seventh Street” in
“The stain glass is pretty much intact,” Schraeder
said. “Even though the building has been abandoned, it’s all very
He argues the history of the church is equally important to the community.
It was built by the Wyandot Indians in the mid-1800s after they had been forced off their land in Ohio and removed to a reservation that later became Kansas City, Kansas.
addition to the connection to the Wyandot Indians, the congregation
struggled through the Civil War years as both abolitionists and slave
owners were among the descendants of the Wyandot.
In its early
years, the church split over the issue of slavery into two separate
buildings. The Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church was once the
Seventh Street Methodist Episcopal Church South.
Later, the church was home to members of an African American Methodist Episcopal congregation.
President Mosier said the college community is well aware of the
architectural and historic value of Seventh Street Church and plans to
highlight it. The center, almost twice the size of the White House and
stretching the full block between 6th and 7th streets, will integrate
elements of the original building into a living history display.
will very carefully and slowly raze that church to save a lot of the
red brick, the stained glass windows, and see that the foundation stones
are preserved,” he said.
But he said to renovate and repurpose it entirely would require too much of the project’s $70 million budget.
is really no way to affordably remodel and bring it up to code,” Mosier
said. “We understand there are different thoughts on what to do with
that church, but one view is that (it) will continue to serve the
community, maybe in a different way.”
In the hands of the UG
fate of the church ultimately rests with the Unified Government’s Board
of Commissioners, who will have the power to accept or reject the
Landmark Commission’s recommendation.
Gunnar Hand, Director of
Planning and Urban Design for the Unified Government Kansas City,
Kansas, says it may be harder to save the building because it is
protected solely by a preservation ordinance in Kansas City, Kansas.
particular property is a locally designated landmark which provides it
with our local review and protections, but it is not a state or federal
landmark which makes it a little more complicated,” he said.
outside the dilapidated building, preservationist Schraeder says this
church, in the heart of the city where Native Indians, Mexicans, Eastern
Europeans and African Americans have cobbled together neighboring
communities over the decades, may provide an educational lesson no
college class can.
“The history we have of everyone coming from
everywhere and trying to get along and get 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 move forward.”
He says if the church is torn down, he won’t be there to watch it.
Laura Ziegler has been a producer with NPR in Washington D.C. and national NPR reporter covering the Midwest. Currently she’s a community engagement reporter and producer at KCUR.
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