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Fire damages historic church that may house gospel music center

 Steve Smith and Monica R. Butler pose in front of Second Baptist Church near Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis. They plan to convert it into a national center for the celebration and study of gospel music. [8/13/21]
Butler Group
Steve Smith and Monica R. Butler plan to convert the Second Baptist Church near Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis into a national center for the celebration and study of gospel music.

An early morning fire damaged a Central West End Church that could soon house a gospel music hall of fame.

St. Louis firefighters responded to the Second Baptist Church at 500 N. Kingshighway at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said 60 firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, which was confined to the church's steeple.

“This was a very impressive stop, as we call it, to keep that fire contained just at the steeple and not have it spread to the other church areas or church buildings and some of the other occupied buildings around this facility,” Jenkerson said.

The St. Louis Fire Department tweeted this St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department photo of the Second Baptist Church's steeple ablaze at 4:47 a.m. Tuesday, October 26, 2021. There were sixty firefighters working on the scene at the time, according to the tweet.
The St. Louis Fire Department tweeted this St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department photo of the Second Baptist Church's steeple ablaze at 4:47 a.m. Tuesday. There were 60 firefighters working on the scene at the time, according to the tweet.

No one was injured. Investigators are trying to determine what started the fire, Jenkerson said.

Built in 1907, Second Baptist has been dormant for more than a decade. Missouri Preservation included the church on its “Places of Peril” list in 2019. The church is part of the Central West End area known as Holy Corners for the large number of churches in the area.

In August, developers announced a $22 million effort to transform the church into the Gospel Museum Hall of Fame and Cultural Arts, Entertainment and Gospel Research Center. Television producer and St. Louis native Monica R. Butler and developer Steve Smith said they aim to create a center that would include a performance space, movie theater and production soundstage dedicated to the history of the genre.

The developers view the fire as only a minor setback, said Lin Woods, president of Gospel Music Hall of Fame Missouri.

“We're a little bit upset, a little bit saddened by it, but it doesn't deter us from our goal,” Woods said. “We're pushing forward and making this a tourist destination.”

10262021_second-baptist-church-2 (1).png
Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

Woods said she does not have an estimate for repairing the fire damage. While the fire may push back development, the hall of fame is still committed to the project, she said.

“This would create job opportunities, a lot of socio-economic opportunities in this part of the city, it would bring some vitality back to it,” Woods said. “It'll be a huge cultural arts component of that area in just adding to the vibrancy and historical element of that community.”

Woods said it’s important to establish the center to educate St. Louisans on the impact of gospel music in the city.

“[Missourians] were part of the folks that helped pave the way in creating gospel music as a business,” Woods said. “Let's make it a cultural destination for folks to come to from around the world.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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