Demolition leaves hole in landscape and in our hearts

"You're out on the streets looking good, and baby, deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain't right."

Seeing great old monuments in our midst disappear gives us the blues, in this case the Janis Joplin, rip-your-heart-out kind of blues.

It saddens us to see the formerly proud United Baptist Church on Main Street in Lewiston missing windows and with claw-like wrecking equipment ready to tear down its exterior.

The nearly 90-year-old landmark is coming down after being abandoned by a small congregation that could not raise $1 million to rebuild, maintain or even heat the large, inefficient structure.

Still, it was out there on the streets "looking good," yet in our hearts we all knew it wasn't right. Nature abhors a vacuum.

The congregation had it on the market for years, starting at $300,000. But any owner would have had to pay far more to simply make it habitable.

Then there would have been the constant cost of upkeep and heat for a building built by 1922 standards, when both labor and fuel were cheap.

The Baptist church went dark several years ago, just before several other landmark churches closed for good.

About half a mile away stands the beautiful but empty St. Patrick's Church, an inspirational structure facing Kennedy Park.

Nearly across the street from the soon-to-be-rubble United Baptist Church is the vacant St. Joseph's Church.

Just up Main Street once stood a small Lutheran church, which was torn down to make way for an expansion at Central Maine Medical Center.

Further down the street stands the vacant St. Joseph's school, awaiting a buyer which seems unlikely to appear.

The only abandoned church that has survived the twin plagues of declining membership and escalating costs is St. Mary's Church, once central to Little Canada where so many immigrating Franco-Americans got their start.

Thanks to the tireless work of its director and volunteer board, who have fought for donations and government grants, the church is now the thriving Franco-American Heritage Center which hosts performances of all sorts.

But converting that church was a herculean effort and a matter of personal pride for the Franco community.

The old Baptist church apparently did not have as large a constituency or as much emotional pull.

In 2008, a Falmouth couple spent about $2 million converting Portland's Chestnut Street Church into a high-end bar and restaurant called “Grace.”

It was a risky investment that would be even riskier in the less wealthy, and less tourist-oriented, Lewiston-Auburn market.

So it's difficult to imagine what uses will be found for this city's vacant churches.

But times do change and, reluctantly, so must the face of a community. Old-line denominations are losing members to more evangelical churches which invariably locate in non-descript, but less costly, buildings out of the downtown.

Meanwhile, the recession has put a damper on the ambitious downtown building projects we saw in the first half of the last decade.

Still, there is construction, most centering around the two hospitals, both of which have undertaken very large construction projects in the past year.

Just up the street from the Baptist church is the glass and steel face of CMMC, bringing a new look to Main Street.

Still, seeing United Baptist Church fall remains Janis-Joplin painful:

Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Break another little bit of my heart...

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Rex Rhoades's picture
staff

Lutherans

"Just up Main Street once stood a small Lutheran church, which was torn down to make way for an expansion at Central Maine Medical Center."

Just to clarify, this congregation moved to 757 Summer St. in Auburn where it continues to meet.

Maine's economic and cultural decline...

What a beautiful building. There's something wrong when an edifice like this is removed... It is not just history being lost... In New York City, such buildings are removed each year for bigger buildings.....

But in this small community, the razing of this substantial church is a signpost of the decline, nay even the eventual death of the host community... Community leaders must rally... The sign is here for everyone to see.

Hon. Steven W Lindsey
Ches-3
Keene, NH

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