By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
Developer Steve Smith and film/TV movie producer Monica R. Butler are in the pre-planning and funding phase of a project that will restore a 1907 church in the Central West End and establish it as the Gospel Music Hall of Fame of Missouri.
Smith, CEO of Lawrence Group and head of its affiliate, New + Found, is the developing the project. Lawrence Group will provide design and construction services.
Once the site of Second Baptist Church, the 40,000-square-foot building is structurally sound but needs considerable restoration, Smith said. It’s located at 500 North Kingshighway Blvd. on the northern fringe of the Central West End, one block south of Delmar Blvd.
“This is a complicated and ambitious project, both physically and financially,” said Smith. “We’re early in the design phase now. It’s a wonderful initiative to preserve this legacy architecturally and to revive the rich history of what transpired within the walls of this beautiful building.”
Butler’s life-long involvement with gospel music took root in this building. “My mother sang and recorded with the famous gospel group, The O’Neal Twins,” she said. “I experienced it all being in the studio with them as they recorded and I was in the 1982 documentary, ‘Say Amen Somebody,’ that was filmed here in St. Louis. Many gospel music legends hail from St. Louis, some who are still alive today.”
Design of the future hall of fame and cultural arts center includes three main components, according to Smith: 1) a museum – located in the former sanctuary space – that will offer exhibits specific to gospel music history; 2) an education component featuring classroom and theater space; and 3) an event and production space.
The picturesque adjacent garden is also envisioned as a site for galas, wedding receptions and other gatherings.
Writer/producer Lin Woods, executive director of the Missouri-based Inspired Lives Foundation, says Missouri plays an integral role in gospel music as a business. “Before that, it was a genre,” Woods said. “Years ago in this very church, Pastor David Epley began hosting live gospel concerts. He was the first preacher to open this church to that. We’re doing our part to keep gospel music alive here in St. Louis.”
For more information, see mogospel.com.