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Central Baptist Church in Midtown moves toward landmark status

CITY HALL – Legislation passed Friday by the Board of Aldermen would grant a special historic status to a Midtown church with a long history of fighting for civil rights and area residents.   

Central Baptist Church at 2842 Washington Boulevard would be declared a City of St. Louis Landmark. As such, the owners cannot change its design or construction and cannot demolish it without the approval of the St. Louis Preservation Board.

The city website lists six landmarks, including the Arcade Building downtown, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital, the Art Museum, the New Jerusalem Church of God, the Soulard Market and the Maya Angelou Birthplace. 

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously on Jan. 29 to give initial approval to a bill making the designation. After breaking for the upcoming municipal election, aldermen will take final action on the bill at their meeting on April 19.

The city Public Service Preservation Board and the Planning Commission both strongly approved of the measure when they reviewed it. 

“This is important both for the history of the congregation as well as for the architecture expressed at the site.” Dan Krasnoff, director of the city Cultural Resources Office, told an aldermanic committee on Jan. 27. 

Central Baptist Church, 2842 Washington Boulevard in Midtown
After an earlier building burned in the early 1970s, the current building took its place, Krasnoff said. That building has impressive detail on its brickwork and innovative use of stained glass, he explained. 

Gail Brown, a trustee and lifetime member of Central Baptist Church, told the committee that the church had been involved in significant activities, focusing on education, outreach and social justice.

“This designation will give honor and recognition, recognizing the efforts and sacrifice of all those before us who have made such a significant impact on the life of our church and to the region,” Brown said. “We believe that the wellness of our history will serve to inspire generations to come.”

Speaking of the congregation’s history, Brown said its second pastor, the Rev. John Richard Anderson, helped on the Underground Railroad.  Anderson, who was pastor from 1847 to 1863, built the congregation’s first house of worship on Green Street, now Lucas Avenue.

The Rev. George Stevens, who served as pastor from 1903 to 1937, was key to the organization of two African-American high schools, Vashon and Sumner. 

Noted African-American educator and historian Julia Davis was a member of the church. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church in the 1960s. 

Nineteenth Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, sponsor of the bill for the designation, said the churches of Midtown were some of the oldest in the region. “We even have a church, First Baptist Church, that is still serving in the 204th year,” she said. 

The Oscar Waring House
In related action, the Board of Aldermen took final action Friday on designation of another site as a City of St. Louis Landmark. The designation is for the Oscar Waring House, 1211 Tower Grove Avenue, in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.

The house was the home of Oscar and Mary C. Waring from 1884 to 1911. From 1879 to 1908, Oscar M. Waring served as the first African-American principal of  Sumner High School. Sumner was the first public high school for African-Americans west of the Mississippi River. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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