Historic St. Louis Church Collapses

April 16, 2014

A St. Louis church with a long history is in ruins after a sudden collapse, and the school next door is closed for safety reasons.

KSDK-TV reports that Bethlehem Lutheran Church stood for nearly 120 years in north St. Louis before a wall collapsed on Friday.

As a result of the collapse, the Better Learning Communities Academy charter school was closed. It wasn’t clear when the school would reopen. The yard where children play between the church and school remains littered with crumbled brick and shards of stained glass. Heavy equipment was used to help keep the rest of the church from falling into the school.

The demise of the church began 25 years ago. In 1989, the church was struck by lightning three times, each causing fires. The congregation decided to move in 1995, hoping to return once the $85,000 was raised for immediate repairs. It never was.

As the church stood empty, it became a target.

“Vandals really desecrated the building,” said Pastor John Schmidtke.

It’s a common problem. St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said the city has 6,100 vacant buildings, and 2,114 of those are structurally condemned. Most are in north St. Louis.

Oswald said the city spends more than $1 million annually to demolish 200 to 400 crumbling buildings.

“Those buildings that are at a point where they’re becoming really dangerous to the public, we’re going to take action on them,” Oswald said.

The choice isn’t always easy. Oswald said the city has to balance safety with preserving historic buildings.

“Many of these buildings are in historic neighborhoods. And it’s important to keep those historic buildings that are able to be saved,” he said.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church congregants hope to build a new church.

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