by Michael R. Allen
Yes, the congregation eventually sold the church voluntarily. I still remember the day back in 2006 when the pastor of the North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church called us at Landmarks Association of St. Louis asking for help with a real estate agent who had approached the church for an offer. Our advice was that the buyer was likely Paul McKee, Jr. and McEagle Properties, and the church should not worry about standing firm because this was a big, long-term project and there was no need to move out right away. However, by summer 2007, North Galilee was long gone.
Now, in 2009, the cornerstone is removed. North Galilee Missionary Baptist Church has moved to Moline Acres in St. Louis County. The building that housed African-American Christian worship since 1906 — over 100 years — sits empty, with its front door constantly pried apart by vandals seeking copper. The block that the church anchored was once proud — a solid part of the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. Now, the block barely recognizes the state it was in in January 2007 when I first photographed it.
At that point, the church was surrounded by fairly well-kept brick housing that was privately owned. This block stood out in a neighborhood where much of the remaining historic housing stock east of Grand is owned by a few large owners, including the valiant St. Louis Equity Fund. Here was a block that spoke not only to the past but to the future — institutional stability, private ownership and safety. Needless to say, McEagle got a foothold in 2006 and proceeded to buy out every private owner in the next two years.
It’s day and night. When I now set foot on the block, I feel a heavy sense of loss.
One of the houses was occupied then, while one was owned by McEagle and another by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. The three houses remain:
Across the street stood three two-story houses. The center house still had its elaborate historic wooden porch in January 2007:
East of the group of three houses stood an already-boarded one-story shotgun house. Apparently, life at this house was happy, as now-covered graffiti left by its occupants indicated two years ago:
This side of the block has changed radically in the past two years as McEagle finished acquisition and brick thieves destroyed the group of three houses. Here’s a recent view:
When McEagle discusses saving all buildings that can be saved, what does that statement mean? For the 2900 block of Montgomery Avenue, a block that would have been an ideal block for preservation and infill, that promise is retroactive and meaningless. The buildings fell. The church moved to the county. Day is night, up is down, and the neighborhood is out one of its most hopeful blocks and a historic African-American house of worship.