Continuing arrangements set up for the Jewish New Year last week, families from the nation’s largest Conservative synagogue will assemble this evening and all day tomorrow for Yom Kippur services at the nation’s largest megachurch. Congregation Beth Yeshurun’s own facilities have been unusable since the synagogue on Beechnut St. — on the other side of the West Loop from Meyerland Plaza — took on as much as 4 ft. of water after Hurricane Harvey.
The interfaith arrangement was brokered initially by Congressman John Culberson. After receiving extensive criticism for not opening its doors to flooding victims immediately following the first Harvey storms, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church eventually served as a shelter for as many as 450 evacuees. For Rosh Hashanah services last week, Lakewood arranged for a rotating slide show of 40 high-resolution photos depicting portions of Beth Yeshurun’s damaged sanctuaries to be displayed on the 24-ft.-by-12-ft. Jumbotron behind the stage of the 16,800-seat former Houston Rockets basketball arena in Greenway Plaza.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: AT THE EDGE OF EXEMPTION “Churches and private education getting a pass on property taxes is just wrong wrong wrong. it opens up too many loopholes. things become clouded, like when 2nd baptist buys the adjacent shopping center. they own it, they operate a portion of it for church activities, does that take the entire property off the tax roles? That’s easily a $20MM property now not part of COH taxes, and yet using an unusually high pro-rata portion of traffic control, road maintenance since the remaining businesses there are high traffic. another example — i want to buy a piece of real estate. i start a ‘church’ and then buy it. i now have a free hold on a piece of dirt forever, don’t I? . . . private schools and universities are no different. st agnes now has taken a 4 corners hard corner off the tax roll @ bellaire/fondren so they can have athletic fields, and theoretically could continue to take in the same manner forever. who is to say a board member there wouldn’t buy/BTS a building for them, then pass on the effective tax savings through a long-term cheap rent deal??? HBU – same thing. the list goes on and on.” [HTX REZ, commenting on There Was a Church, and There Went the Steeple]
And now another Swamplot reader sends in this curious photo from this morning, showing the collapsed box formerly known as the Central Presbyterian Church on Richmond Ave. between Cummins and Timmons — and demonstrating to those of you who might have worried that the collapse of the 1962 building’s modern steeple could pose some threat to Richmond Ave. traffic that there was never anything to worry about. Everyone is safe. The congregation has decamped for the St. Philip Presbyterian Church just outside the Loop on San Felipe; the land is being cleared for apartments; the giant cross is at rest.
The Episcopal church on the triangular block near the head of Telephone Rd. at Dallas and Eastwood is headed for demolition, according to information posted on its Facebook page. The congregation plans to vacate the Church of the Redeemer after a service on February 27th. A letter posted from senior warden Daniel Coleman declares the building “no longer safe to occupy”:
According to Tellepsen Construction and Studio Red Architects, the existing condition of the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems, the chunks of concrete separating and falling from our buildings (“spalling”), the lack of a fire alarm system, and the inadequacy of emergency exit signs and lights is more than enough to revoke our Certificate of Occupancy, if the Fire Marshall inspected the buildings. The cost of addressing just these issues would be $5 – 7 million. Neither our congregation nor our Diocese can afford that; and even if all those things were repaired, our congregation can no longer afford to maintain the building.
“The buildings will eventually be demolished, but we believe that the mural will be removed and preserved in the hope of future use,” adds a parishioner organizing a congregation “memory book.” Also likely to be saved, at least until the current contract expires: the bell tower, where T-mobile has a microwave relay. The original church on that site was built in 1920 as the Eastwood Community Church;Tellepsen was the contractor for its 1932 replacement. Additional structures were added in the forties and fifties, along with the sanctuary mural, called “Christ of the Workingman.”
Houston’s City Council voted 13-2 yesterday to sell the former Compaq Center to the nation’s largest megachurch for a grand total of $7.5 million dollars. Sure, that’s considerably less than the $22.6 million the city would have received for a 30-year extension of Lakewood Church’s current lease on what used to be homecourt of the Houston Rockets. But the city wouldn’t see the beginning of that income stream for 24 years, and it might be a full 54 years before the city could get the building and those 7 acres of Greenway Plaza land back — presuming either is worth anything at all by then. And really, who’s even going to want to be around this city in 2064?
That $7.5 million isn’t exactly chump change, either. If each of the church’s approximately 43,500 weekly visitors throws a dollar into one of those collection buckets, it’ll take them all of 3 and a half years just to pay the darn thing off!
But did the city even have a choice in the matter?