New Fourth Ward Park of the Open Church

Friday is the official groundbreaking ceremony for the Fourth Ward’s new Bethel Church Park — though an eagle-eyed Swamplot reader noted workers from contractor JE Dunn getting a jump on things at the site of the former Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at Andrews St. and Crosby earlier this month. The Freedman’s Town church in the shadows of Downtown, portions of which date from 1923, was largely destroyed by fire in January 2005 after several years of sitting vacant. Its shored-up walls have stood mostly undisturbed since then.


The city bought the site in 2009, using funds from the Fourth Ward Redevelopment Authority, also known as TIRZ No. 14. Three sides of the building’s brick exterior will stick around for the new park taking over the site, also funded by the TIRZ. The walls will be restored and braced more carefully, but the back wall will be taken out, allowing visitors to sit on pew-like benches inside the former sanctuary, or make a break for the back lawn without disturbing others congregating inside.

Construction work is scheduled to be complete by next March.

Renderings: White Oak Studio/PGAL

41 Comment

  • Nice idea.

  • Just when you think the City has lost its vision for taking advantage of an opportunity like this, they go and pleasantly surprise you! What an incredible additon to the area and another great photo op for visitors.

  • they should do something like this with the astrodome?

  • Will the city allow services to be performed there? Weddings would be nice in this location.

  • I see the gates on the drawings…will the structure “close” at night? Otherwise, it is just going to become one big public toilet.

  • Others congregating inside = Drug dealers

    Visitors = Drug users

  • Well, I’ll be. I was sure that the City was going to knock it down and sell off the land to patch holes in the City’s budget. What a pleasant surprise this is. I hope there will be some signs detailing the history of the church and Freedmans Town.

  • Dare I say visionary and Houston development in the same breath? Sometimes H-town can surprise. City could use about 100X this going forth.

  • Sort of reminds me of the Christopher Wren chuch in Fulton, Mo.

  • This is a nice surprise.
    Seems like 24/7 security would be needed.

  • I love this idea but I agree with others- they will have to fence it off and close it after dark but even the fence could reflect teh architecture of the church with gothic arches and such.

  • The structure will be illuminated, but closed at night. The grassy area at back will remain open, but also will be illuminated.

  • I am blown away. I hope this turns out the way it is shown. I am stunned that this will be in Houston. This is a real treat, I bash this city, and now they do this. You got me on this one Houston.

  • I wonder how many untested rape kits could have been processed with that money rather than imposing another business tax?

  • Well I’ll be HTX… This makes me VERY happy. Just when I thought a travesty was going to occur at this site, the City and the Parks Department step up.

    Structures such as this represent the cultural heritage of the citizens and craftsman that have made this City so special. I used to think not many cared and preferred to erase all that came before. If Berlin can make use of old abandoned and bombed out buildings in Potzdamer-platz, by gosh we can too.

    I hope we truly have turned a corner. Hopefully you approve Mr. Yates; R.I.P.

  • Obviously few to none of the people that left comments live in this area. This building has been a nuisance since the fire, blocking my street now for 7 years. In the closest surrounding areas of this “park” I could count on one hand how many children there are. I agree with a comment earlier, that it’s just going to bring more bad than good. While I applaud the idea of it, the location is geographically undesirable. Call me a pessimist, but come live on one of the surrounding streets for a few weeks and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

  • @Chico Zero.

    If the money came from a TIRZ it cannot be spent anywhere else.

    TIRZ = Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. A small geographic area where additional (usually small) taxes are levied. All additional money must be spent in the region for “reinvestment”. Usually used for areas that need some revitalization help.

  • Holly, parks are built not just for the people who live next to them, but for everyone. If you find the area undesirable, perhaps you should have moved somewhere else. Maybe you lived there back when Freedmen’s town was a thriving middle class community, but somehow I doubt you’ve been there since the 40s.

  • @Holly this doesn’t seem like a park geared towards children. So there absence shouldn’t be a issue.

  • Holly, may I suggest moving to the Woodlands or better yet; Porter.

  • Looks like a Caspar David Friedrich painting.

  • I live down the street from this site and am happy to see that something is finally being done with this broken building. Why has this taken so long? The timing seems rather off considering that there are at least 5 other private and public construction projects going on within blocks of this site. We already have several street and sidewalk closures and now will have to deal with part of Crosby St. being closed.

  • I can’t believe that some people are actually complaining about a beautiful new park and added green space to their community. Do you know where you live? When developers found out about this plan, there was probably a riot and protests of how this area is in desperate need for a nail salon, liquor store, dry cleaners, donut shop and subway.

  • I love this thread, so many issues….lol

    Lest you all remember this area circa 1998′ it has come a long way since… some may remember the real story behind this site and that it is most likely arson that did this structure in, so it could be flipped for more banal galvalume clad, built to block face nonsense… Remember late nite pie, or the arsons on 11th in the Heights a while back?

    I for one am glad the City held onto it until things like Carnagie Vanguard school went up. There are your kiddos for ya!

    If people can’t wrap their heads around historical preservation, urban density and green space, and a better urban core for ALL Houstonians. Maybe the Woodlands or Porter is a better fit for them.

  • Wow, very nice

  • I knew the second I hit “send” that I would get comments like “if you don’t like where you live, then move”, etc. Let me be clear. I know exactly where I live and knew where I was moving to 8 years ago. And contrary to what assumptions have been made, I love where I live and am proud of where I live. I love the history behind it. There are great people who live in all parts of this neighborhood all the way down the street to where crack is being sold. When I read this article the first thing that pops into my head is “park=kids=hangout”. I am actually glad that they’re doing what they’re doing instead of putting up yet another apartment complex. The more green and conservation and beautification, the better. A park is a park, meaning where people will congregate which also means kids. Understand that when I posted this comment, I was fresh off of witnessing kids stealing a man’s phone and he being helpless to get it back. And the kids live in this neighborhood. Which just refreshed my memory of my neighbor getting his windows busted out while driving to his house by kids that live in this neighborhood who thought it would be fun to throw rocks at cars driving down the street. I think to when I was riding my scooter and kids that live in this neighborhood thought it would be fun to throw rocks at me while I was driving down the street almost causing me to wreck.
    I am aware that crime happens in every neighborhood. And despite the 3 instances I just wrote about I have no desire to move. I am happy to see historical sites preserved. In fact there were plans to pave some of the streets here, including mine. As many broken peices of brick there that makes it a pain on any car to drive over, the bricks are staying and will be preserved and I’m so glad!
    I still stand by what I said in my previous post, but perhaps I should have explained where it was coming from.

  • I ride my bike past here quite often as I live a few blocks from the site. a “blessing” indeed.

  • As an owner and resident in the area, I’m happy to see community development. FoWaSoDa (Fourth Ward, South Of Dallas) is actually a safe environment along the 45. A block away from the Camden super complexes so our properties are in a location experiencing high-demand, a positive problem to have.

    Enough about the neighborhood. What excites me is (like another poster mentioned earlier) that this has the potential to become another tourist-drawing attraction. I would take it further and suggest that the City of Houston rebrand culture around the fact that it is a place with many open-aired spiritual spaces, ie: Rothko v. Bethel.

    What’s most fun about this discussion is that something was initiated. Regardless of the outcome (we all surely hope that it nets a positive) we will have been bold and placed our chips on a bet. In my book there are only a few things worse than apathetically abstaining from making decisions and taking risks. Good work, Parks and Recs.


  • I live (& own a home) in the block of the new park & am beyond thrilled by the addition to the community. I love living in this neiborhood. I am moved by the design & look forward to doing tai chi in the green space.

  • “FoWaSoDa”


  • Putting up a park isn’t going to cause more kids to loiter with intent, is it? At worst, it just moves them around.

  • “FoWaSoDa”

    This was clever when someone decided to call the area south of Houston St in Manhattan “Soho.” Since then, not so much.

    If it continues, I’m rechristening my neighborhood HoHeNoPeWeNoEaSt.

  • “FoWaSoDa”
    Do not collect $200.

  • @John (another one):
    Surprisingly, or maybe not, “HoHeNoPeWeNoEaSt” is actually parseable as “Houston Heights North of Pecore West of Norhill East of Studewood”.

  • Please Houston… stop with the acronyms. It’s NOT cute anymore.


  • HoHeNoPeWeNoEaSt – “Houston Heights North of Pecore West of Norhill East of Studewood”.
    Hey, that is my old neighborhood. I thought “HoHeNoPeWeNoEaSt” was an native American Indian word for the hood.

  • I prefer NoPaNoPa. North Padre, North of Port Aransas.

  • @Holly-Pass a petition around a get signatures and get on speakers list for City Council Meeting
    Get copy of incidents
    Get in touch with Capt or LT at HPD that is responsible for patrolling your area
    Put your complaints in writing to create a paper trail
    Contact your state representative, send email about crime in your area
    Register with
    Closed mouth don’t get fed

  • damn, i am going to have one of the one of the prettiest views in houston my living room looks over this building! very un-Houston like. i am soooo happy they are preserving this!

    to all those worried about it being occupied at night, there are plenty of open spaces nearby, heck buffalo bayou is 3 blocks away and I have only seen 2 homeless people there. There are residential condos, apartment complexes and heck hpd is down the street, they patrol all the time! I cannot tell you how many gigantic dogs live in the camden complex. A great dane is next door, i have already seen him poking his head through the fence. I have no doubt HPD will be patrolling this space. Sure there are mischief makers, but I walk by the city housing everyday to get to buffalo bayou and I never get bothered. Don’t kid yourself, suburban kids pull the same stunts as these inner city kids.

    I can’t wait to go draw and watercolor in the new space!