Church asks to demolish historic building

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- To demolish or not.

A church wants to take down a building it owns, but the city of St. Augustine says: not so fast, because the building is historic.

The Echo House sits on Martin Luther King Avenue in Lincolnville in St. Augustine. St. Paul AME Church , across the street, owns that building. The church wants to demolish the vacant building to create a parking lot and a playground.

The church cannot continue to use a neighboring parking lot.

Judith Serpahin is a church member and says the congregation is growing and needs to provide parking to its members.

Built in 1926 in a Mediterranean Revival style, Echo House was a community wellness center, according to Jenny Wolfe with the City of St. Augustine.

"They offered services to the African American population. It had an infirmary, administrative offices, and a park," Wolfe explained.

First Coast News gained exclusive access inside the Echo House. Inside, the ceiling and portions of the roof are missing, the appliances look unusable, some walls are simply gone, thick cobwebs dangle from the ceiling, and a tree was even growing through a window in the back.

Because Echo House is more than 50 years old and considered historic, the church has to gain permission to demolish it.

Wolfe said, "Several factors are taken into consideration, such as cost of rehabilitation, the proposed use for the property, and the value of the property."

The building is considered listed on the national register because of its location. Wolfe noted, "It doesn't have to be individually listed, but it's contributing to the whole district of Lincolnville."

A recent study shows it would take $975,000 to restore the building.

Seraphin calmly said, "You know what? We don't' have a million dollars."

She added, "I'm a preservationist too, and I'm someone who believes we need to save our history. But I know we need to save our history when it makes sense."

Seraphin says the church plans to save a part of the building, but the church needs most of the space for a parking lot in order to keep the growing historic church in the city.

"The bottom line is if our church can't get a parking lot, our church will staring moving, and will have to most likely leave the city," she said. "We can't be a growing church without a parking lot."

There is a Historical and Architectural Review Board meeting Thursday, and Echo House is on the agenda. There may be a decision regarding demolition, but the decision could be delayed as well.


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