Did You Know: Historic Church Under Renovation For 2015

August 08, 2014

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/ KJZZ News)
The exterior of the Monroe Street Abbey on 3rd Avenue.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/ KJZZ News)
The 1500-seat auditorium burned in 1984.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/ KJZZ News)
The front entrance wall is securely held up with beams.
(Photo Courtesy of Housing Opportunity Center)
A choir performs at the First Baptist Church stage.

It was the first building of its kind in the city of Phoenix. Fifty years later, most of the structure was burned and nearly set for demolition. Today, it’s a national landmark undergoing a major unusual renovation.

On the corner of 3rd Avenue and Monroe Street sits a church with a bell tower. The exterior is intact, but inside it’s hollow. This is the First Baptist Church.

Did You Know... in January of 1984 the main area of the building was destroyed in a fire that burned for two days?

“Pretty much it burned out the entire center of the building," said Katherine Patry with the Housing Opportunity Center, a non-profit organization that owns the building.

“There’s no roof on this building. The entire center section is gone, completely," Patry said. "As we walk through you can easily see where the burned wood is and the damage that was done.”

The 1,500-seat auditorium and stage was at the center of this church. The Italian Gothic Revival style building was built in 1929 as the permanent structure to the First Baptist Church founded in Phoenix in 1883. The building is about 40,000 square feet with four floors, including a basement. The exposed brick and masonry shows how the four outer concrete walls have held up over the years.

“There were classrooms in here at one time," Patry said. "And then the priest lived in here. There’s areas that were shower rooms because there was a baptismal here. They had stage areas for the performances and just offices. So there were lots of activities at one time. It was a big center for the community.”     

The First Baptist congregation relocated in 1969 and a short time later this building was closed. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, but after the fire the structure was being considered for demolition for safety reasons — until Patry’s group took it over in 1993. It was renamed the Monroe Street Abbey and plans were put in place to renovate it.  

‘We’re not gonna bring it back to a church, but we want to put the stage back in," Patry said. "We want to have a garden in the center. We also want to be able to open it for a variety of events.”   

The first phase of the project was to stabilize the walls and clean up debris inside the building. The next stage is to renovate much of the original structure for the public opening in the spring of 2015.