Can This Lutheran Church Be Saved?

A number of readers have written in to report that Immanuel Lutheran Church has filed an application with the city to demolish its former sanctuary building on the corner of 15th St. and Cortlandt in the Heights. Since the 1932 brick building is in one of the Heights historic districts, demo applicants are required to request a certificate of appropriateness from the Houston Archeological and Historical Commission. The application will be voted on at the next HAHC meeting on October 22nd, but a denial from the HAHC won’t mean much: After waiting 90 days, the church can go ahead with the demo anyway.

Heights preservation ordnance Janice Evans-Davis, who’s sending out emails and posting on local bulletin boards about the property, toured it this morning:


This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a contributing structure in the Houston Heights Historic District East. The church has no plans for the property once the building is gone. The stated reason for wanting to bulldoze is that they don’t think it is right to just let the building sit there and deteriorate. They have said the church does not have the money needed to renovate and make needed repairs.

According to an article in the Chronicle written at the time, church officials had plans to demolish the building 7 years ago:

After lobbying by a group of church members seeking to keep the facility, the ministry decided to suspend demolition for six weeks to seek written proposals for its future use.

Immanuel services are held at a newer church building next door, built in 1964. The older facility had been sparingly used since then and lately has not been used at all. . . .

Immanuel trustee Jaime Meave said the church is willing to keep the building open.

But, he added the cost to renovate the facility, estimated at about $600,000, is a concern to the church.

He said tearing it down alone would cost about $70,000, and some Heights Land Use Committee members said it’s not economical and suggested the church sell the building.

Others reminded him that if a new building is to be constructed, it will have to meet the city of Houston’s requirement for larger setback, resulting in a smaller building and more restricted parking.

Photos: Heights Blog (exterior); Janice Evans-Davis (interior)

23 Comment

  • What god has built, god can demolish!

    Just another example of how historical designations in the end mean nothing.

    Just wait until someone opposes this and watch how quickly a church starts screaming “separation of church and state.”

  • Thanks for writing this up. From what I’ve read, the construction of the sanctuary started with the basement, in 1926, and church services were initially held there. Construction continued as the church raised money to finance it, and was not complete until 1932. That time period would have encompassed the worst years of the Great Depression. And yet the church was still built. Pretty remarkable.

  • I wish I had the cash to purchase the church and renovate it into a residence. There are so many cool things that could be done with that space. Take, for example, the old Latter Day Saints church on Oxford and 10th St that was very tastefully turned into two residences.

  • There doesn’t seem to be any interest by the church to sell it. Possibly because at some point they may need the land.

    Should prove interesting to see what they do but again what god had built, god can demolish!

  • Why do I go from matt to Matt?

  • OK, so the architecturev is pretty standard 30’s church but those roof trusses are still pretty stunning. Surely something can be done with this space.

  • I guess they could pass the colletion plate and see if everyone was willing to tithe $600,000 but then the question would be what to do with it.

    They could possibly open it as a restaurant which of course would be interesting but the revenue of course could be used to benefit the community.

    Sadly we are not real “historically minded” in this city. We are also not very innovative. A number of the old “robber baron” mansions in Manhattan have been converted to absolutely magnificent co-op apartments. I often wonder when walking through various areas in Montrose how many of the older mansions that were torn down for four townhouses might have been converted into four fabulous condos.

  • Alice’s Restaurant Redux.

  • How about this for an innovative use of a church? Of course it helps that this one was much higher in the ceiling and that, being 15th century, demolishing it was probably not an option. Still, the diocese retains ownersghip and leases the building to the new tenansts which means that a previous financial drain becomes an income earner.

  • They could convert it to an office like what English + Architects did to the The Tabernacle Baptist Church on 1919 Decatur Street. (

  • I really hope they do not demolish this building. English & Associates have put the Tabernacle Baptist Church building to good use.

    If anyone is curious about life safety, energy code or ADA issues associated with adaptive reuse of an old church building such as this, I will volunteer some answers…and questions.

  • ^ HeightsBlog: It *is* fascinating that this church was built in stages, thru lean times, with the sustained vision of its dedicated congregation.
    Many urban church buildings end up vacant & decaying because the congregations move away and/or die off, but that’s not the case here.

    The church turned its back on this gem! Out with the old and in with the new.
    No doubt they needed more space as they grew and added a school, but, how much better if they had kept this building alive as an integral part of their campus. Boooo Immanuel Lutheran.

  • I think it should be the next “_____” Creek openning.

    BUT, if the church wants to tear it down, let them. It is after all, theirs to do as they please. Or, let them use it for another safe place for the kids in the area to play.

  • Club Meridian needs to sell their plot in EaDo and buy this place instead. The Heights is pretty vanilla, it could benefit from some KMFDM/Cannibal Corpse/Fetish Balls

  • It’s far to easy to sit back and say it is theirs to do as they please with it. At the end of the day being on the National Register of Historic Places should provide some measure of protection. This does not have to be provided through regulation. It reads from the post as if the church are just concerned about the costs and scope of work to keep the building in use. However it is likely that noone on the church board has the relevant experience to really quantify those factors. If there was access to grants and/or expert advice for bodies willing to try and protect structures like this one I think a lot more people would be willing to take the project on.

  • $600,000 to renovate? I’d like to see that breakdown. I’ll offer a donation of my labor, and I’m sure many more would to if the church would make a plea for it (plus, maybe the members would too??)…

  • Someday, when I’ve made my millions by [insert to-be-determined scheme here], this is exactly the type of building I’d like to buy and rehabilitate.

    Put it on the market, Immanuel Lutheran!!

  • Neat building. The interior reminds me of Mark’s Restaurant in Montrose. Would hate to see this potential wasted/destroyed.

  • I was involved 7 years ago to save the old church but it was a battle then.. The people of Immanuel don’t know what they have.
    They want to demo the church so they can move on to phase three of their of their master plan. Problem is they don’t have enough money to finish phase two much less start phase three.
    One of the reasons ,I was told by a trustee, that they are demoing the bldg. now is that a couple of their old members died and left them some money ,so I guess they have some money in their pocket and that is the only thing they can think of doing. He went on to say that one of the decessed left them some oil well money not much he said but just enough to maybe pay the light bill each month. They have an oil well over there right now and don’t even know it. Yea it will take money and effort but I guarentee every girl in the Heights would love to get married in that old beautiful church.Also I was told by reliable source that they are writing with a red pen almost every week and that they wanted to reach out to the Heights community for new members. I ca’t think of a worst way to reach out to us than tear this church down. The church is not rotten as some say. that thing is solid, some remodel work and that Bldg. could be a gold mine for the church.If they do tear it down it will be a shame

  • ILC is my church and I can tell you that many of us are distressed about tearing down the beautiful old church. But, there are no hidden agendas here. We truly do NOT have the money for the rennovation. I agree that it would be a wonderful place to rent out for “dream” weddings. If only there was some historical agency that could help raise the money to keep this Heights gem…

  • I went to middle school at Immanuel Lutheran School which is located adjacent to this church. I remember occasionally going down into the basement of the church to get supplies and other things (they used it as a storage space). We used to freak out when we had to go down there cause everyone thought it was haunted. It will be kinda sad to see this church go.

  • I also attended Immanuel Lutheran School and my family was Baptist. We went to Tabernacle Baptist Church. I was at Immanuel in the 40’s and 50’s. The church basement was where we had lunch every day, with a prayer before we ate. Church socials, fund raisers, and PTA meeting were held there. Every Friday morning we went to church where Pastor Merchant (not sure of the spelling) would give a message on our level. I was part of the Children’s Choir, the beauty of the sanctuary from that vantage point was breath taking. I still remember the total beauty of the enormous Christmas trees on each side of alter. I had never, nor have I to this day, seen anything so beautiful. They taught me that those simple trees, that God had made, had to get dressed in their most beautiful clothes to honor the birth of Christ. So much of my Christian faith was learned in that church. Please do don’t destroy the place where the seeds of faith were planted for so many.