Thursday, April 27, 2017

1st German Congregational Church - What's the Plan?

"If these walls could talk..." the building at 4400 Lincoln in Globeville has been witness to years of celebrations, marriages, baptisms, confirmations and funerals. Once home to German-speaking immigrants from the village of Norka, Russia, the building was the home of the 1st German Congregational Church, and a monument to faith and hard work. Newcomers first met in neighbor's homes for services, and then built a structure known as "the Shanty" at 44th and Lincoln as their first place of worship in 1894. A larger brick structure replaced "the Shanty" in 1896 or '97. Membership increased steadily and, in 1927, a larger church was built.

Laying of the cornerstone, April 24, 2017 
Photo used by permission of Larry Summers, 2004

Rose window, a gift of Caspar Hofmann
Photo ® Mary Lou Egan

As in the old country, life revolved around the church with Sunday services, Sunday school, choirs, prayer meetings, Bible studies, a social group for young people and frequent revivals. The services were held in German, and children attended "German school" after regular school during the week. Throughout the years, attendance and contributions remained high, even as the neighborhood came under attack. The construction of I-25 and I-70 took the homes and businesses of many church members and led to discussions about relocating away from the neighborhood. A search committee purchased land at 5615 West 64th Avenue in Arvada and, in 1974, the new church, Heritage Community Bible Church was built. The former building in Globeville was purchased by the city of Denver in 1976 and served as a Senior Center for many years, where Globeville's seniors could share a meal, learn crafts, take a class and socialize. 

In the last several years, the building has been unoccupied and seems uncared for. The circular frame that once held the stained glass window is deteriorating, mortar is seeping out from between the bricks and a misspelled message on a crumbling step warns "no lortering."

 Photo of 1st German Congregational Church in 2016
Photo ® Mary Lou Egan


"No lortering" and crumbling steps
Photo ® Mary Lou Egan
A community forum was held June 25, 2016 to solicit ideas from the community for the best use of the building. Suggestions included:
A small library for Globeville
A satellite office for the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative 
Office space for a non-profit organization.

According to Seneca Holmes, (from the city's Office of Economic Development and chair of the 2016 meeting) the building needs numerous improvements, updates and extensive repairs. Holmes is no longer with the the OED but was hopeful about the future of the project and suggested I keep in touch with Councilwoman at Large, Debbie Ortega. 

Ortega's Aide, Susan Aldretti, was less optimistic. In an email from April 24, Aldretti said: "Unfortunately, there has not been a lot of progress. Denver is preparing a list of projects to take to the voters, and the rehabilitation of this building is included in the initial list. The process for the bonds is lengthy. The requests are being considered by sub-committees, who then make recommendations to a steering committee. The steering committee will make recommendations to the Mayor and then the Mayor will recommend to City Council. It is not possible to predict if this project will be included in the final package at this point."

If these walls could talk, this former church building would share the memories of the active, vibrant community of immigrants who created and cared for it. Will there be new stories? Or will this crumbling structure be a reminder of a past that seems brighter than the present?


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