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Neighborhood Church Condemned by City

by DeMisty Bellinger / photos by Neal Delfeld

The True Church of the First Born’s building was demolished on May 8 after the City of Milwaukee ruled that it was unsafe for occupancy. Lorice Beckley, a prominent leader of the church, said that the property will still belong to the church and that they will more than likely rebuild at the site, keeping the church in the community. The first record of the building at 231 E. Meinecke Ave., according to Todd Weiler of the Department of Neighborhood Services, was the permit to build the building in 1893. Since the erection of the structure, there have been many permitted alterations. Weiler says that “no permitted activity was recorded since 1977, but obviously something happened that caused the supports . . . to initially hold the roof [to come down]. That was the worst problem.” When asked if the building could have been repaired, Weiler explained “it probably could be done, but at what price? A million dollars, two million? It’s just that the law allows demolition to occur when the cost of repairs exceeds 50 percent of the value of the building.” Apparently, the True Church of the First Born, an apostolic church, was aware of the problem since the beginning of the year. Ron Roberts of the Department of Neighborhood Services says that the Fire Department alerted the city to the building’s problems after it discovered structural damage during a response to a smoke complaint. In February, an inspector was sent to assess the damage. To remedy the situation, the pastor tried to find an architect to correct the structure. Roberts says that the church was “unable to get contractors or architects that would even give them proposals to stabilize.” However, states Roberts, the “most recent contractor says he attempted and he could not find a realistic approach to stabilize the building.” Before its demolition, many parishioners were out saying goodbye to the church and removing what they could. Some were upset that they could not retrieve certain contents and even some parts of the structure itself, such as their stained-glass windows. Weiler says that the windows “are the property of the demolition contractor; they have to negotiate with the church to secure those.” When many of the church members had already left and the building was pretty much demolished, a contractor was spotted carrying windows to his truck. Beckley says that the church was able to get a lot of their contents and that Roberts was a great help. Upon hearing the compliment, Roberts said “I understand their frustration — the building is coming down, they’re losing their home — we’re trying to make it as painless as possible under the circumstances.” He also explained that once a contractor has won a bid, all contents of that property belong to the contractor. The city, unlike the contractors, does not have the insurance to cover the liability of anyone entering the building after they have condemned it. Roberts further explains by stating, “if we. . .board up the building and say it’s unsafe, and then we reverse that decision and allow people to go in, and something should happen where the building falls, someone gets hurt, they could say, ‘I did it on my own accord,’ but a family member could say, ‘no, you know it was dangerous,’ the city is now liable and then we have a lawsuit.” Whereas, maintains Roberts, a contractor will accept the liability if anyone gets hurt. Church members were allowed to retrieve some items two weeks prior to the demolition. The True Church of the First Born has served the community with a food pantry and an outreach ministry. Beckley says, “that building is going down but the true church is still standing.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 6 – June 2003
by DeMisty Bellinger / photos by Neal Delfeld