From West Woodlawn Baptist Church to I3 Academy: Adaptive Reuse of a Religious Space

Over the past year on my weekend bicycle rides I often checked on the progress of the transformation of a mid-century colonial revival Baptist church into a charter school. The building was built by West Woodlawn Baptist Church on 48th Street N in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1987 it became the home of First Baptist Church of Woodlawn, an African American Baptist congregation organized in 1931.

First Baptist Church, Woodlawn, 2012, photo from First Baptist Church, Woodlawn, Facebook Page

With two auxiliary buildings on a residential side street, it was a large complex. First Baptist sold the on buildings to I3 Academy and purchased a more prominent lot on First Avenue North where it plans to build. At present the congregation is worshiping at Mount Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in the East Avondale neighborhood.

The sanctuary’s steeple and portico were removed along with its cornerstone. Some of its doors were bricked up skylights put in the roof. The sanctuary was expanded to the rear where a new entrance was built. While only the tall circle top windows and stub tower suggest its former identity, the property is seeing many more hours of use as a charter school than it was as a church.

I just submitted revisions an overview essay on “Secularization and Sacred Space” for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion and Arts in the West: Renaissance to the Present. There I show that such adaptive reuses are a common part of the story of sacred space and secularization, but only one of part. I’ll share more on that when the essay is published.

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