Beth Eden Baptist Church:
The fate of the Beth Eden church at 3241 Lowell Boulevard has been in limbo since it was sold in 2007, and particularly since the adoption of the new zoning code in 2010, which inflamed controversy over the level of appropriate development for the site. Historic Denver began monitoring the site more closely in 2011 when development plans were announced, but as the plans at that time included retaining the most significant portion of the church complex, the organization did not consider it a preservation issue and did not get further involved. However, circumstances changed in recent months, when an application for Non-Historic Status on the remaining section of the Beth Eden Baptist Church resulted in an imminent threat of demolition, which became the impetus for immediate preservation action.
The Beth Eden Baptist Church is a Tudor Revival style building, situated between the historic Highland Square commercial district, and a historic residential neighborhood of West Highland. It is a block from one of Denver’s newest historic districts—the Allen M. Ghost Historic District, as well as the Wolff Place Historic District. The sole surviving building on the site was built by the congregation in 1931, but Beth Eden has occupied the site since 1892—when West Highland was at the western edge of Denver. Beth Eden was originally a mission church, founded by the First Baptist Church of Denver. During the late 19th century, America went through a period of grassroots religious revivals. Denominations such as the Baptists and Methodists sponsored local revival meetings in ad hoc spaces—often large tents set up on the edge of town. Congregations also founded small mission churches in areas of the city to reach out to a wider population. This missionary zeal was not limited to domestic missions—many congregations also sponsored foreign missionaries around the globe. Simultaneously, around the turn of the 20th century, the impact the Industrial Revolution had on all levels of society became readily apparent. As rural workers flooded into cities in search of factory jobs, America’s urban centers became replete with overcrowded tenements, lacking even the most basic necessities and social services. The religious impulse that had manifested in tent revivals and foreign missions, turned inward to the tenements and city streets, providing the indigent with services and support. Preachers of the Social Gospel argued that “neighbor love can only come from a neighbor.” In order to alleviate the suffering in city slums and promote good behavior, activists needed to be present in those areas of town. Although West Highland was far from disreputable, the missionary zeal which founded organizations such as the Salvation Army also encouraged small missionary churches across cities, providing urban citizens with local parish churches and a chance to enjoy communal fellowship.
Beth Eden was founded in the midst of this revival movement. The Reverend Charles H. Walker founded Beth Eden, along with three other Baptist mission churches in the area. Rev. Walker presided over Beth Eden for seven years and contributed to the church until his death in 1930. In just a few short years, Beth Eden transformed from a mission church supported by non-residents, to a vibrant, community supported neighborhood church, thus achieving the goal of Baptist missionaries found across America and around the world at the turn of the century. The congregation grew steadily, outgrowing its original sanctuary in the 1920s. Two permits from the Denver Building Permits Files show that the church erected temporary tents outside to hold the large number of parishioners.
In 1930, Denver architect William N. Bowman designed the new Tudor Revival style building, which left room for future expansion. With over 1200 hours of labor freely donated by members of the congregation, the new church building opened in 1931. Beth Eden is the only documented church in the Tudor Revival style in Denver and the only church done in this style by William Bowman. The church continued to expand during the first half of the 20th century. New additions were added to the Bowman designed sanctuary in 1941-2 and 1951. The church embraced the charismatic evangelicalism prevalent in the 1930s and 40s, and flourished under Rev. Sam Bradford, who presided over 1,200 congregants in 1943. Its 1951 addition housed the pioneering television station KFEL, which broadcast “The Baptist Hour” starting in 1952. In the mid-1960s, church numbers began to decline. As with many congregations, Beth Eden’s numbers had ebbed and flowed throughout the years, and in the post-war era, many of its parishioners eventually moved from Highland and West Highland, out to the suburbs of Wheat Ridge and Arvada. In 1968-9, Beth Eden followed its congregation and established a larger church in Wheat Ridge. A series of community groups and churches occupied the former Beth Eden space, with the Redeemer Temple the latest to occupy the building when it was sold in 2007.
Because it has been the consistent position of Historic Denver that the church building should remain, we engaged in the designation process. However, we do not take this rare action without strong community support, and in this case there are 8 co-applicants from the neighborhood, including those involved in Friends of West Highland Landmarks, formed in 2012. Additionally, we hosted a petition and more than 400 Denver residents, including 280 who live within 1 mile of the church, have signed on in support of preserving the 1931 church structure.
On Tuesday, April 1st, the historic designation application went before the Landmark Preservation Commission. The Commission, composed of nine architects and historians who represent organizations such as History Colorado and the American Institute of Architects, judges whether proposed landmarks meet specific criteria of significance in two of three categories—history, architecture, and geography. After hearing testimony from both the applicants and the landowner, followed by public comments from ten members of the community (all in favor of saving the church) the Commission deliberated on the application. They quickly agreed that Beth Eden Church was architecturally, historically, and geographically significant. Many of the commissioners also commented on the passion the community had for this local landmark. With eight co-applicants, ten additional speakers, and a petition with more than 400 signatures, it was quite obvious that this church continues to be highly significant to the community, though it no longer maintains its original use as a religious sanctuary.
On May 19th the Denver City Council voted 8-3 to designate the church a local landmark. Historic Denver hopes to be a resource to the property owner in seeking a new developer for the site who can incorporate this historic structure into a projects that leverages the vibrant mix of old and new.
Beth Eden Church in the news:
April 2, 2014- Inside Real Estate News, "Church Gets Historic Nod"
April 1, 2014- Inside Real Estate News, "Planning Department Supports Historic Designation"
February 20, 2014 - Inside Real Estate News, "Historic Denver Supports Saving Church