The Sad End of Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Categories: Architecture

All photos by Chris Naffziger unless otherwise noted
The sanctuary of Bethlehem Lutheran under demolition.

Demolition crews have been working on the ill-fated Bethlehem Lutheran for the last week, following the collapse of one of its exterior walls. The historic Hyde Park church, which we wrote about back in January, will also cease to exist in the next month. The church has sat vacant for the last 25 years. The congregation that owns the church still exists, but it has shrunk to a fraction of its original size -- from a high of 1,000 regular churchgoers to around 100 today. Maintaining such a massive building with limited financial resources certainly posed a problem for the church, and this article is not an indictment of the congregation's actions. I know they're devastated to see their beloved church come down.

A neighbor who lives close enough that errant bricks from the demolition landed on her property informed me last week that the initial collapse on April 11 proved to be relatively minor, affecting only the roof. But the sound was deafening, and a cloud of brown dust poured out of holes in the stained glass windows and roof.

Photo courtesy of HardLuck682
Interior view of Bethlehem Lutheran before demolition, showing the hole in roof.

The neighbor has observed the deterioration of the church for the last several decades; the theft of copper and damage to the spire over the center of the church caused the spire to crash into the roof, opening the sanctuary to damaging wind and rain. Crews are now knocking down walls and carefully loading bricks onto pallets for sale.

Priceless stone lined up for salvage.

The congregation is now in negotiations with the City Museum to salvage pieces of terra cotta from the top of the church's tower. Hopefully City Museum won't remove the decorative elements from the tower. While most of the church is a lost cause, the grand bell tower was clearly still stable enough to allow City Museum employees to enter it last week.

Continue to read more of how we could possibly save some of the church.

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