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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Plans for Church Ruins Gardens Going Nowhere in Gary and St. Louis

Apparently the City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana still stands abandoned. Last summer, the city came up with a plan to demolish an annex and retain the sanctuary as a ruins garden, but that plan has not advanced due to lack of funding.

Meanwhile, the National Memorial Church of God in Christ in Midtown St. Louis also still stands abandoned, although more secure and completely gutted. When will Grand Center, Inc., the owner of the church, make good on their promise to turn that church into a ruins garden? The last time workers were on site was in 2004, when a crew filled the basement with gravel.

The delay in Gary is due in large part because there are no private interests who want to lay claim to City Methodist, either for preservation or clearance. The burden of dedicating the church to a new future falls onto local government, which is grossly underfunded. Chicago preservation groups have no interest in getting involved in Gary, which is separated by both state lines and states of mind.

In St. Louis, though, the Church of God in Christ is owned by a non-profit redevelopment corporation that is pretty good at fundraising, even if it produces lousy urban planning. Here they have a really great idea and the financial health to pursue further fundraising, but oddly have let the plan go dormant.

Converting damaged church sanctuaries into ruins gardens is a great idea that repurposed spaces difficult to convert for profitable uses. The architecture of these two churches in particular inspires contemplation and hope. City Methodist has to be one of the most humane giant buildings I've ever seen, while Church of God in Christ is relatively small and austere. These buildings have each suffered fires and have passed any point at which church life would have returned. While restoration for other uses is feasible, these spaces have gained wonderful second lives as great, if illicit, public spaces. Purposeful conversion to ruins gardens would make their second-hand functions safer for all and socially acknowledged. Hopefully, these projects can be revived.


Urban Review said...

Church ruins as gardens is fine as long as it makes sense from a use perspective. Simply making a church a garden doesn't mean it will be used, be safe or be loved.

The church here, even in ruins, is stunning. The scale and proportion are quite nice. But, I just don't see a garden making sense at this time. The area needs people 24/7. I could see this being a great garden space if surrounded by lots of buildings and people - it would be a great get away from the hustle & bustle.

Other uses might include rebuilding a roof for use as a restaurant or living spaces. As an outdoor facility a cafe could be nice --- add a nice modernist box inside for kitchen & rest rooms.

Thanks for reminding us about this ruins and the lack of activity.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I agree that Midtown definitely needs more groundfloor restaurants and general groundfloor anything. I work there and even during the day, I have a grand total of about four culinary options! (Maybe more, but as a carless vegetarian, not much more.)

But I don't think that such things necessarily have to go in this church building. It's already emptied out and practically ready to go as a ruins garden. It is nothing but walls--why do build-out there when there are plenty of vacant, ready-to-go storefronts already in the area, and plenty of buildings that also need love?

I think this has obvious potential and beauty as a ruins garden, and I don't see the point in deciding that it should be Urban Cafe le Burnt Out Church just because there should be another cafe somewhere in the area (esp. with gigantic swaths of vacant land and buildings and finished storefronts all around!). Maybe Midtown wouldn't support constant traffic in a ruins garden yet, but interesting and truly successful urban areas don't get to be what they are by just waiting to do anything 'til there's enough density.