Community comes together to plan the revival of a historic African-American church

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Community comes together to plan the revival of a historic African-American church


The boarded-up Old Baptist Church sits on the corner of MLK Dr. and Comanche St.



Photo By May Olvera

The boarded-up Old Baptist Church sits on the corner of MLK Dr. and Comanche St.
Photo By May Olvera

The boarded-up Old Baptist Church sits on the corner of MLK Dr. and Comanche St.
Photo By May Olvera

The boarded-up Old Baptist Church sits on the corner of MLK Dr. and Comanche St.
Photo By May Olvera

May Olvera

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New owners, a revitalized community and a commissioning board have come together to honor and restore a significant part of San Marcos history: the Old First Baptist Church.

When the Old First Baptist Church’s current owner, Kurt Waldhauser, acquired the property last year, he was unsure of its history and future. Originally, he had considered demolishing the boarded-up church, thinking it had remained closed and untouched for too many years to seem particularly significant. However, as he and his wife began researching its background, they learned it’s importance to the history of San Marcos.

According to Waldhauser, the original Old First Baptist Church was actually built in 1868 on Mitchell Street in San Marcos. Shortly after its opening, the building was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan. Thirty years later, it was rebuilt in its current location.

“We knew we needed to do whatever we could to save the structure,” Waldhauser said. “We don’t know how it’s going to happen, we don’t know how it’s possible to do it, but we know it needs to be done. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Ramika Adams, board member and treasurer of the Calaboose African American History Museum, is one of the people leading the church’s preservation efforts.

“The wonderful thing is that when it was rebuilt, the new church was even grander than the one that was burned down,” Adams said. “In rebuilding, the community of that time was saying, ‘You’re coming to take us down, but we’re coming back bigger and badder.’”

According to the U.S. Census, San Marcos currently has an African-American population of only 4 percent. At one point, however, a major African-American community thrived in the Dunbar neighborhood surrounding MLK Drive. From barbershops to restaurants and insurance agencies, Adams said it was a flourishing community until gentrification forced many of them out of San Marcos in the middle of the 20th century.

The church’s preservation project centers around honoring the rich history, while simultaneously turning it into a space where a new community can thrive.

Adams said they hope to keep as much of the church as possible and the wood, murals and stained-glass windows will be preserved. The preservation project will create a community center where people can organize workshops, hold various events and rent office spaces.

Beyond the new owners and Calaboose, various San Marcos organizations have offered a helping hand in bringing this vision to life. Among them is the San Marcos Cinema Club.

The organization recently released a video addressed to actor Robert Redford. According to the video, Redford spent many childhood summer days in San Marcos. His great-great-grandparents lived on the same block as the Old Baptist Church. The club requested his assistance in saving and restoring the church by attending the film festival and screening one of his movies, with all proceeds going toward the project.

On a governmental level, the last item on the agenda for the Historic Preservation Commission’s Sept. 6 meeting was a recommendation, brought forth by Waldhauser, to designate the Old Baptist Church as a local historic landmark.

Commissioner Thea Dake said the commission would be happy to help with the restoration efforts. Chair Commissioner Griffin Spell said the Old Baptist Church deserved special recognition. The motion passed unanimously.

Adams said there are still a couple of years of work to be done before the church reopens. Until then, community interest and assistance is encouraging and appreciated.

For updates, volunteering opportunities and more information on the Old Baptist Church and the African American history of San Marcos, contact the Calaboose Museum’s Facebook page.

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