In the early morning hours of October 6th, 2006, two iconic downtown buildings burned to the ground after a mysterious fire began in the basement of First United Methodist Church at Poplar and Second.
Flames destroyed the 114-year-old sanctuary, while the wind whisked embers several blocks away to Court Square, sparking a second fire at the Court Annex Building, a 19th-century building that once served as a storage facility for the Lowenstein department store.
Both buildings were destroyed. Several buildings nearby, including the Lowenstein Building and the Lincoln American Tower adjacent to the Court Annex Building, sustained damage.
Two years later, both First United Methodist Church and Court Square Center — the company converting the three Court Square buildings into apartments at the time of the fire — are ready to rebuild. Both groups will take part in a "Day of Downtown Rebirth" groundbreaking festival on Sunday, October 5th.
"This groundbreaking is so important for those who stood with us in those early morning hours and grieved and suffered the loss for the city," says the Rev. Martha Wagley of First United Methodist Church. "Now they have an opportunity to stand with us again for rebirth and a new day."
First United Methodist Church will rebuild in the same downtown location, and Wagley says some of the granite salvaged from the burned building will be used in the new church's foundation.
"We'll also retain those historical arches and marble columns that weren't destroyed in the fire," Wagley says.
"We started raising money the day of the fire, and we have worked every single day," says Wagley, who moved her congregation to the Cannon Center and then to St. Jude's Barry Building after the fire. The church has raised 60 percent of the $8 million needed to complete construction.
As for Court Square Center, the annex building is being reconstructed from the ground up.
"The court annex was this wonderful 1897 hard-pine building, but it's been a 25-foot hole," says Yorke Lawson, a partner with Court Square Center, LLC. "Now we're converting it into a modern glass and steel building."
Known as CA2, the building will house 16 apartments. The adjoining Lincoln American Tower was rehabbed after the fire and opened in May with 31 apartments. The 28 apartments in the Lowenstein Building will be available by December. CA2 should be complete by September of next year.
The groundbreaking ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday with a worship service on the federal plaza in front of First United Methodist Church.