It took more than 35 years, but dogged determination has transformed the Linwood Presbyterian Church building from an eyesore to an asset, serving people in Kansas City’s urban core.
The sanctuary structure built in 1923 is now a lively campus of nonprofit organizations, providing services for the community. A dedication of the Linwood Area Ministry Place attracted well-wishers earlier this month. The $10 million, 20-year effort resurrects the long-abandoned prominent structure at Linwood Boulevard and Bruce R. Watkins Drive.
The project has been a wonderful way to preserve a Gothic Revival structure originally designed by Kansas City architecture firm Greenebaum, Hardy and Schumacher.
The building is home to ReDiscover, an organization that provides mental health and substance abuse services to people. The Front Porch Alliance is there, building youth leadership and connecting families to the neighborhoods they’re in. Connecting for Good is the latest tenant, relocating to a larger computer center space to help bridge the digital divide in the urban core.
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The Future Leaders Outreach Network, serving at-risk youths, is in the building with the Heartland Presbytery, the district offices for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). More groups are expected to follow, making that corner a powerful, nonprofit center for positive change in a long-neglected part of town.
Through shared services in shared space, funders are assured of getting “more bang for charitable dollars,” said Debra Box, executive director of Support Kansas City, a nonprofit providing services and expertise to nonprofits. The goal is to create a synergy so that each organization benefits from working closely with others to keep costs low and generate a concentration of services for people who need them.
“We think we have a model for collaboration,” said David Warm, chairman of Linwood Property Inc. “The idea is to stay and invest.”
That’s a radical change for the building, particularly in the last part of the 20th century. The Linwood Presbyterian Church began in 1888 on the site with Sunday school classes. The congregation formed in 1890.
The original church opened in 1891, but was destroyed by fire. It was replaced in 1904, and the sanctuary that stands now was built 19 years later. The church has had a long history of helping people in the community. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the nearby structure known as the Harold Thomas Center for Reconciliation opened as a convalescent home for poor and working women.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the corner housed a day care and Head Start. Then people and dollars left the city. The former church was sold in 1979 and stripped of architectural treasures. In 1995, with support from the Ivanhoe community, the Heartland Presbytery bought the deteriorating structure and created Linwood Property with the promise to restore the church.
But making that happen took years, a combination of federal and state tax credits, money from the city and philanthropic contributions. The surrounding community also refused to give up.
“It was very important to the neighborhood for the building to be revitalized,” said Margaret J. May, executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council.
Turning the building into a community asset with input from surrounding neighborhoods signals new redevelopment possibilities for the urban core.