Designed by one of Kansas City’s most prolific and successful architects — John McKecknie, Grand Avenue Temple has played a prominent role in the development of the Methodist Church in Kansas City. This stately expression of Greek Revival architecture was constructed between 1909 and 1911 and replaced an earlier mid-to-late 19th century house of worship on the same site.
In 1886, under the leadership of Reverend Griffis, 35 members of the Methodist Episcopal Church met in an old house at the corner of 9th and Grand Avenue, the future site of what would become known as the “Mother Church of Methodism” in Kansas City. An initial contribution of $1.25 from an elderly washer woman initiated a building fund which ultimately secured 3 lots at the present site. A modest church was erected here over time. As Downtown Kansas City grew into a prominent regional governmental, office, and retail center and other church congregations moved south to more residential areas of the City, the congregation of Grand Avenue Temple made the decision to stay at its original location. The idea of building a new sanctuary with an adjoining office building emerged at the suggestion of the then presiding Bishop.
Architect John McKecknie, a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete construction in Kansas City, was commissioned to construct both buildings at a cost of $375,000. It was believed that revenue generated from the office building could help to support church activities and thus serve as a means of financing the spread of Methodism in the City and region.
No expense was spared in the construction of the church, both exterior and interior. The exterior, although altered by the loss of an original cornice in the late 1930’s, is dominated by a temple form front facade of buff brick and limestone. Large fluted Ionic columns and pilasters visually support the terra cotta architrave and low brick pediment. Terra cotta arched three-part stained glass windows separated into three distinct divisions fill the bays between the columns. Entrances on each end of the front facade are positioned amid the column and pilaster bases.
The largely intact interior features a monumental amphitheater-shaped sanctuary. Oak pews are situated in a semi-circular fashion with a two level “c” shaped balcony cantilevered above the lower level by steel trusses encased in concrete. Classical-inspired plaster ornamentation in the form of rosettes, dentils, Corinthian pilasters and egg-and-dart moldings embellish the space and add to its sense of grandeur. Twelve stained glass skylights are situated in the elaborate coffered ceiling and help to illuminate the space.
An extraordinary feature of the sanctuary is its 1912 E.M. Skinner Opus 190 Pip Organ which dominates the south wall of the sanctuary. It was the first organ in the area to be named to the National Register of Historic Instruments by the Organ Historic Society of America. It is considered one of organist Ernest Skinner’s best preserved works. The church and adjacent office building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many congregations trace their roots to Grand Avenue Temple, including Independence Avenue Methodist Church, Linwood Methodist, Country Club Christian, Oakley Methodist, Summit Street Methodist Episcopal, Roanoke Methodist Episcopal, and Northern Boulevard Methodist. Grand Avenue Temple is one of six churches remaining in Downtown Kansas City. It has fed the poor and homeless of Kansas City in recent decades.
Despite such a glorious past, the church congregation has dwindled and is financially unable to maintain the aging 88-year old building. Signs of neglect are apparent. Peeling paint, antiquated systems, crumbing plaster, and failing stained glass windows reflect the struggle.
The Church made an offer to sell the property to the Federal Reserve Bank, subject to a vote by the congregation. The bank was not actively attempting to purchase the building at the time of the offer. On January 21, 2001 a meeting was held at which time the congregation voted to postpone a vote on the proposed sale for 90 days (April 21st). The Federal Reserve Bank is interested in the property for use as a parking lot which would require the demolition of the temple. It does not include the office building which is now under separate ownership. The Bank would allow the Church to continue to use the building for a certain period of time after purchase. The Federal Reserve has indicated that a decision on this issue must be made soon because of the impending construction.
The Historic Kansas City Foundation, Friends of Sacred Structures group, some congregation members, and many local preservationists are working to locate a preservation-sensitive buyer who would occupy the building, and, if necessary, adaptively re-use the space. Time, however, is running out.
Listed in 2001
Update: This building has been SAVED! and is still being used by the United Methodist Church today.