|City/Town: • Oklahoma City|
|Location Class: • Church|
|Year Built: • 1929|
|Year Abandoned: • 1981|
|Status: • Burned Down|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Emily Cowan • Jeff Hodge|
Built in 1929, this building has been home to Mount Carmel and Memorial Churches throughout the years. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was organized in the 1940s. Back in those days, it was in the Walnut Grove area, but it moved to this building in 1971 when urban renewal declared the old building in its way. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was the third and final church to use the space. The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was an extraordinarily large building in comparison to the rather small congregation it served. Serving as a place of worship for roughly 70 adults and 50 children.
Around 4 p.m. on January 22, 1981, a three-alarm fire gutted the three-story Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The church, which was valued at around $190,000 after the blaze, was brought under control by nearly fifty firefighters after an hour of the flames ravaging the memories stuck inside. The damage was estimated to be around $50,000.
The cause of the inferno appeared to be at the hand of a faulty water heater. Deacon Royce Lewis said to officials that the church was uninsured. Stained glass was broken in order to access the flames and much of the interior was damaged. The church pews, piano, choir robes, and pulpit all survived. A meeting was held amongst Pastor Seawood Herschel Evans and the congregation soon after to decide what to do next. Pastor Herschel Evans first concern after news of the blaze was finding a space in the annex for the upcoming Sunday service.
Firefighters were able to save the three-story annex which was used as a makeshift sanctuary just days after the fire. Members of the congregation saw it as a day to celebrate the many symbols that proved “God is a mighty good God.” Rev. Scottie Hudson was one of two ministers leading the sermon, “We’d like to thank the Lord for saving the piano. We’d like to thank the Lord for the choir being in the right place. Just when we thought everything was going our way, something happened. Are we going to let that stop us?” he preached. One member had positive outlooks saying, “The structure being burned as it is, you would have thought we wouldn’t have a church. Instead, He gave us a beautiful church service right here” she continued, “I got on my knees and said ‘Lord, please don’t burn the north end of the church or the south end of the church so we won’t have to go someplace else.’ And He did it.”
Rev. Seawood Herschel Evans walked the soot-covered sanctuary, “It’s ironic that not all of it was gutted. Some of it was left intact. It seemed as if the annex had been prepared to move. It was like a blueprint. Those patterns, those things, help relieve the anxiety. I know these things are His will. My father helped organize this church, back in oh I’d say 1944.”
Deacon Royce Lewis organized workdays every Saturday to help clean up debris and soot from inside the burned church. It is uncertain what happened to these efforts and what is to be done with the building as it has sat empty for almost forty years.
As I write this the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is no more. At around 10 p.m. on October 19, 2020 a 3rd alarm fire engulfed the building and everything inside of it. Fire crews arrived around 10:06 and were met with collapsing bricks and flames to the roof. The building is a total loss and the front surviving portion will soon be demolished, leaving no trace the church was ever there. Another piece of history is gone today.
Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan.