Thursday, June 24, 1999

City investigates church collapse

West End crash came after work next door

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Standing before the rubble that was once his West End congregation's home, Pastor Donald Fairbanks vowed his church would be rebuilt.

        Tuesday night, just minutes before choir members were scheduled to begin rehearsing, the roof and a supporting wall of the New St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church at 1907 Freeman Ave. came tumbling down. On Wednesday, church members and neighbors of the West End congregation gathered outside the rubble to lend their support and prayers.

        “This is our home. We will rebuild and we will be back,” Pastor Fairbanks said. Until then, he is talking to the operators of funeral homes, meeting halls and other locations offering temporary space for his congregation.

        Afraid the damaged remains of the church would pose a health risk, work crews started demolishing it Wednesday night. The building was ordered torn down by city inspectors and most of its contents, from the organ to the pews tossed about the rubble were either heavily damaged or destroyed.

        “It was such a beautiful church,” said Bridie Lewis, a longtime member of New St. Paul. She recalled the church building, which dates to 1890 according to county records, was previously used as a theater. New St. Paul took over in 1961 and used it for its worship services, as well as regular ministry efforts and Bible study classes, Pastor Fairbanks said.

        While the structure may be a loss, the congregation survives, said Ms. Lewis, of North Avondale. Someone must have been looking out for her fellow church members, she said.

        The normally busy church was empty when the church began to collapse about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Choir practice was scheduled to start minutes later.

        “You just heard this loud boom,” said Renee Prather, who lives across the street from the church. She was home when she heard the roof and walls cave in. She ran to her window and saw a cloud of dust. When it began to settle, she saw the southern part of the church had caved in.

        Before the building's collapse, demolition crews had torn down a neighboring three-story brick building at 1903 Freeman Ave., to make way for an addition to the church. Apparently the demolition destabilized a brick wall of the church, which gave way, said Bill Langevin, director of the city buildings and inspections department.

        Cincinnati city officials are looking into the demolition of the neighboring building, Mr. Langevin said. Apparently, a demolition permit for the 1903 Freeman building had expired earlier this year, but his department had agreed to let the demolition go ahead rather than charge a church for a second permit.


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