Award of Excellence: Historic Category
Project of the Year Finalist
Bethel Park Restoration
Submitted by Walter P Moore
City of Houston
Walter P Moore
JE Dunn Construction
Bethel Park in Houston, TX, is a unique restoration effort that preserves the history and architecture of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and provides a new park in the city’s fourth ward. Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was first constructed in the 1890s by former slaves and was located in Freedmen’s Town, a post-Civil-War Houston neighborhood founded by freed slaves.
After the first two church buildings were destroyed, a third, single-floor church building was erected in 1923. Second and third floors were added in a 1950 renovation. The sanctuary was designed by James M. Thomas, a prominent architect of African-American churches. In January 2005, a fire gutted the interior of the historic structure, leaving only the exterior masonry walls in place, which were salvaged by creative strengthening and restoration techniques. The structure sat abandoned until 2009, when the city of Houston purchased the property to convert the former church into a community park.
Although faced with several challenges, the design team opted to preserve the walls in place and leave them exposed to maintain the church’s historical integrity. The heavily damaged, unreinforced masonry walls posed an immediate public safety hazard that required an emergency response by the design team before any assessment or restoration work could proceed. Additionally, the design team had to devise a strengthening approach that would resist the hurricane-force winds prevalent in the region while maintaining the original aesthetics. The combined strengthening techniques—some of which included new or repaired reinforced backup walls, strengthened coatings, and a galvanized steel frame that visually recalls the church’s original gabled roof lines—resulted in exposed masonry walls where the strengthening contributes to the overall aesthetic.