Historic Tremont Temple threatened with demolition

A church that survived the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement now faces possible destruction by 21st century progress.  The cornerstone of Tremont Temple Baptist Church, located on Forsyth Street in downtown Macon, was laid in 1900. It’s congregation formed in 1897 and met in a home on Cotton Avenue until the structure at Forsyth Street was built.

 However a demolition order and the construction of a new Dunkin’ Donuts could erase this historic building. Historic Macon, whose mission according to their website is “ to revitalize our community by preserving architecture and sharing history,” sent out an email on Nov. 7 stating a demolition order had been put in place for the building. Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission met on Nov. 12 to discuss the demolition request placed by The Summit Group, the realtor for Tremont Temple, on behalf of Tremont Temple, who has a contract from a buyer for the property. Typically when placing a request to alter a historic building, the party making the request would meet with the Design and Review board, however this step was not met and the church requested to meet with Planning and Zoning instead.

 Julie Groce is the current president of the InTown Macon Association and served on the Design and Review Board. “Normally the process is that the design and review board rules [on matters likes this] and sends a recommendation to Planning and Zoning, and Planning and Zoning either upholds or denies,” she said. “Without that step, we lose a step in the Design and Review board process. Because they are different processes, Design and Review board doesn’t have time limits set on discussion like they do in Planning and Zoning, and there is often more time to sit and work with applicants to find a solution.”

“The important part for all us is that demolition is the ultimate alteration of a historic property, so when you are going to be that dramatic in your application, I think that application deserves the most discussion rather than less discussion,” said Groce.

 Jim Rollins of The Summit Group said in a letter presented at the planning and zoning meeting, “We did not skip Design and Review board. They skipped us.” He later told The Cluster, “The people of the Design and Review board did not show up, so [the client] asked for me to present this to [Planning and Zoning] because they are the decision makers.”

Rollins said in his letter that the potential buyer of the property would like to use the bricks and set up a plaque to the historical significance of the structure. Rollins also said that there was a potential buyer for the pews and stained glass windows, which would reduce the value of the church.

 “I have not seen any evidence of a contract [to buy the pews and stained glass windows.] I do not believe there is a signed contract for the purchase of the windows,” said Rogers.

Rollins would not disclose who the buyer is, saying he could not release the buyer’s name without asking permission first. Asked if the buyer was local to Macon, Rollins said, “They are.”

 Rollins also stated in his letter that the building does not sit on the historic registry. In response the Executive Director of Historic Macon, Josh Rogers said, “The church is irrefutably listed on the National Register. The State Historic Preservation Office or the National Park Service can confirm. The structure is a contributing building to the National Register district known as the Macon Historic District.”

 Rollins went on to say in his letter, presented at the planning and zoning meeting, that the church estimates the repair costs to be upwards of $300,000. In a later interview, Rogers said that “construction costs totally depend on use. I think they could be much higher than $350,000 for say a food court, but the total cost would be less than building new, and would easily [make money], even at the current acquisition price.”

The building as it stands now was left without a tarp over the roof, exposing a portion of the roof to water damage. Asked if it was common for a building to be vacated without a tarp over the roof, Rogers said, “Unfortunately, yes. Macon does not have the best laws encouraging maintenance. While demolition is prohibited, what we call ‘demolition by neglect’ is not.”

 Dr. Andrew Manis, professor of history at Middle Georgia State College and author of “Macon Black and White” said, “The memory of the [Civil Rights] movement will continue regardless of [if the building is there].” He later said that white church should take “the lead to purchase the building for the sake of history.”

 Manis said that such an action would be “symbolic, it symbolizes the effort to be conciliatory. An intentional and collective act that says we were wrong back then in not supporting integration.”

 Rollins and The Summit Group are also looking to tear down another property in Georgia. The Cherokee Market in Canton, a produce market, is currently owned and operated by Lisa Meyer.

 According to a Nov. 14 article by Joshua Sharpe in the Cherokee Tribune, “Meyer doesn’t appear to be alone in her push to save the building, which was built in 1935 by Edwin Bell Sr. as a general store, from developer Jim Rollins, who plans to buy the land her market sits on at the corner of Highway 20 and Union Hill Road to build a Flash Foods gas station.”

The Cherokee Tribune said that Rollins and his company are still in the process of purchasing the property. They are not sure whether or not they will tear the store down. According to the article, Rollins is looking at alternatives to tearing the building down.

 Another article in the Cherokee Tribune said, “Residents in the Estates at Brooke Park are preparing to stand their ground against a Macon-based developer’s plans to build a gas station at the only entrance of their neighborhood on Highway 20.”

 The Cluster attempted to reach Rollins for comment, but a phone call and email were left unanswered.

 Historic Macon now has a form on their website asking people to sign a pledge to save Tremont Temple.

“Every single historic building is unique, and therefore our response to save and restore them is equally varied.  In this case, what I think is unfair is demolishing a part of our shared history for no reason,” said Rogers. “The laws against demolition exist to protect the public and make sure the next generation gets to experience history through our buildings. To me, the value of the land without the building is immaterial and these laws were passed specifically to prevent buildings from being removed just in case the land was perceived as more valuable. The usual process is that a salvageable building is denied a demolition permit.”

 On subject of white churches purchasing the church, Manis, who is also a Baptist minister, said, “It would be a radical act of reconciliation—white Macon has never done a radical act for the sake of reconciliation. By doing something, this would transcend the smaller issue [of the church being demolished or not] but instead would say what black Americans did with the Civil Rights movement made us better and made America better.”