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From 'eyesore' to art venue: Shell of historic church to finally find new use

From 'eyesore' to art venue: Shell of historic church to finally find new use

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The shell of a burned-out church will be transformed into a public park and a place for creative and artistic projects, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation said this week.

Used in recent years as a background for things like senior photos and wedding shots, the roofless stone structure at 620 North Spring Avenue in St. Louis will be known as Spring Church, the foundation says.

Repairs to the masonry began Tuesday and will continue through the year, according to a news release from the foundation, which is nearby at 3716 Washington Boulevard.

Use of the site has been the subject of discussion since an electrical fire in 2001 destroyed the building, which was constructed in 1884.

It had been the home of various denominations for more than a century. In 2001, it was the National Memorial Church of God in Christ with a congregation of about 200. The church had only been insured for $40,000, which did not allow for rebuilding.

According to Post-Dispatch stories from 2007 and 2008, Grand Center had earlier bought the building and promised to convert the ruins into a public art space, perhaps an outdoor sculpture park.

One reader complained the site was an eyesore, although photographers apparently found the stone remains to be an intriguing backdrop.

CD JBF CHURCH FIRE CQ

Tuesday, 3/27/01, St. Louis Members and friends of the National Memorial Church of God in Christ pray together across the street from the smouldering ruins of their church at 620 N. Spring early Tuesday morning. The four alarm fire was shooting through the stain glass windows when the first fire trucks arrived around 6am. The fire department declared the historic old building a total loss. Pastor Robert Chatman Williams said he didn't know where his congregation would meet next Sunday. "It's only wood and stone," said Williams, "we can rebuild". PHOTO BY J.B. FORBES

In 2008, the Pulitzer presented “The Light Project,” a temporary exhibition of public art at the church and in the surrounding neighborhood, organized in collaboration with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the St. Louis Art Museum and White Flag Projects.

The site will be closed to the public as the Pulitzer turns Spring Church into more permanent use, saying it will:

• repair the masonry, ensure ADA accessibility and further stabilize the structure while maintaining its architectural character;

• retain the open roofline, a feature that has made the building an iconic site in the neighborhood;

• add features including handrails, a repaired staircase and infrastructure for electricity and lighting, among others;

cd mh side burned church

INPUT APRIL 20, 2007 -- Grand Center Inc. owns what is left of the National Memorial Church of God in Christ, which caught fire in 2001. For years, the development agency has been promising to turn the ruins into a sculpture garden - but there hasn't been much progress. Midtown resident David Royce says the burned-out church is a blemish on the arts district, and he wants the garden built or the building demolished.

• make minor improvements to the adjacent lot north of the church, which will remain a publicly accessible outdoor green space.

The Pulitzer is working with St. Louis-based Vessel Architecture and Design. Along with the undisclosed cost of renovations to the building, the Pulitzer has paid a “small fee” to Grand Center Inc. for the site, said Katie Hasler Peissig, who is the museum’s director of marketing and communications.

As for the reopening of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation itself (closed due to the coronavirus shutdowns), she said the museum is considering August, but it has no firm plans to announce.

Another Pulitzer project, ”Park-Like,” the transformation of an empty lot on Washington Boulevard, will make its debut in June, she said.

The Pulitzer website says “Park-Like” will be a “sustainably designed green space for visitors to meander along the grass pathways, investigate plants and wildlife in an urban setting, and be delighted by unexpected perspectives. The garden comprises both native and non-native plants, as well as found building materials that have been transformed into water filtration systems, retaining structures, seating, and play space.”

It is designed and created by Studio Land Arts, based in Granite City.

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