Historic church gives way to public park

March 25, 2009 5:20:59 PM PDT
Years after a devastating fire, what is left of an old historic church could soon be turned into a public park. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

City officials want to put a public park on the lot where the old Bethel Baptist Church once stood. The property, north of downtown Houston, is located off Andrews near Crosby Street.

It is one of the oldest churches in Houston. When Bethel Missionary Baptist Church burned in 2005, a lot of history disappeared as well. People disagreed on how to save what's left. Now after years of behind the scenes work, the city is prepared to welcome a new park.

Looking past the chain link fence, above overgrown weeds, you can still sense the history within the walls of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. For its pastor, saying farewell is hard.

"It wasn't our desire to sell the building, but we have to do what we had to do, with the situation at hand," said Pastor Robert Robertson.

Pastor Robertson and his congregation were devastated when the church went up in flames four years ago. Since then, it's been a challenge to find a way to preserve what's left. The city council wanted to turn the ruins into a park, though not everyone was on board.

"Find out what they really want, not just something that the people are going along, not just a number of people doing something that may be politically correct," said Houston City Council Member Toni Lawrence.

After much discussion, the proposal passed. That means an overgrown lot with dangerous walls could someday look like an oasis of green amidst an ever-growing field of modern townhomes.

"It's great for the community. The church is kind of a sore spot. I know there's a lot of history behind it, but nothing's been done with it, so I think it's good news," said neighbor Jose Medina.

Another nearby homeowner, Sheri Davidson, agreed. "I think that would be awesome, the dog would love it," she said.

Some worried the former church would be gobbled up by developers for another row of town homes, but that won't happen now.

Even though the congregation will be relocating elsewhere, Pastor Robertson believes their prayers were answered.

"I think it would serve as a way of saving the history and make them show that a portion of the city in Fourth Ward would remain here," said Pastor Robertson.

The property was purchased for $350,000 using special tax increment re-investment zone money. The entire restoration project is expected to take two years.

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