CENTRAL WEST END (KMOV.com) -- A local film and TV producer is not letting an overnight fire setback her dreams of transforming an historic church into a gospel hall of fame.
Monica Butler set her eyes on redeveloping the old Second Baptist Church on North Kingshighway in the historic "Holy Corners" in the Central West End neighborhood. She aimed to transform the 40,000-square foot church into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Cultural Arts, Entertainment and Gospel Research Center.
"Music brings people and cultures together, and you can’t listen to gospel music and not be moved," Butler said describing her project's goal to celebrate and showcase Black culture with recognition of all forms of gospel music.
Her plans for this space would make any music lover gleam with excitement. The space will include a sound stage, film theater, hall of fame museum, education center, cafe, interactive exhibits, courtyard, and event space. Referencing hearing the sounds of soothing melodies as a child, Butler recalls witnessing her mother Jacqueline harmonizing and recording songs with Gospel trailblazers, the O'Neal Twins, in the studio. Butler's personal connection deepens as she mentions she was featured in a 1982 local documentary, "Say Amen Somebody."
“I have always wanted to share my love of gospel music and help everyone understand and appreciate these joyous songs, and celebrate people like St. Louis’ own Willie Mae Ford Smith, Zella Jackson Price, and so many others who deserve recognition in our area and across the country," she detailed. "Gospel Music influenced a generation of musicians from Aretha Franklin to Beyonce.”
Early Tuesday morning, Butler woke up to devastating news. Over 60 firefighters battled a 2-alarm fire that spread through the five-story church. Fire crews surrounded the church near Kingshighway and Washington Ave around 2:30 a.m. as flames ripped through the steeple of the vacant building.
The extent of the damage is unknown but St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said his crews were determined to stop the flames.
"We had four aerial ladders in operation within about 10 minutes and they knocked this fire down and kept it contained to the staple, which was just the use of a lot of manpower and heavy water," Jenkerson said. "This is an impressive use of force to stop this."
The Gospel Music Hall of Fame released the following statement about the fire:
“We are saddened but not deterred over this unfortunate incident. We are moving forward with this historic project which will enrich this community on so many levels. We’re just grateful no one was hurt in the fire and that the heroic firefighters of the St. Louis City Fire Department were able to contain the fire and limit the damage."
As the project pushes forward, President of Gospel Music Hall of Fame Lin Woods' goal is for the site to not only draw in St. Louisans but become a national tourist attraction.
"The renovation of this historic church and turning this once abandoned building into a cultural arts, entertainment and gospel music education center will create jobs, spin off businesses and bring much needed economic opportunities to this community and the St. Louis region as it becomes a national tourist destination," Woods added.
The church was built in 1907 and is an official landmark for St. Louis City. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.