Builders Help Preserve Portland Black History

Historic Allen Temple CME Church

In February 2015, disaster struck the Allen Temple CME Church when a power surge started two separate electrical fires in the walls of the historic 110-year-old sanctuary. When Pastor Haynes got word of the fire on a Saturday evening, he was finishing up his Sunday sermon. To Reverend Dr. Leroy Haynes Jr., who served an equally impressive career as a Civil Rights leader, the aging church was much more than an old building. It was a community asset in a rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood.

For nearly six decades the predominantly Black congregation of Allen Temple had worshipped in the imposing Gothic-inspired structure originally built by a group of working-class Volga Germans. The building served as a community center for Black people in Northeast Portland who moved to the Albina area en masse after the Vanport Flood of 1948. Before that, redlining laws prevented Black people, of any measure of wealth, from owning property in much of Portland. Today, the church serves as an anchor for Black Portlanders in an area where tens of thousands of the Black population fled Northeast Portland in the past two decades.

2015 Fire

Despite the fire being contained to the roof, pews and walls, a closer inspection from city officials revealed major building code updates would be required before the church would be back in service. The building, which was built long before the advent of sprinkler systems and ADA requirements, was in desperate need of upgrades amid soaring costs of construction. The future was uncertain for the storied church.

More than a year had passed and the shuttered building was still vacant. Allen Temple congregants, who had relocated to nearby Maranatha Church, were staring at a complex, million-dollar renovation project. That is when church parishioner Michelle Harper and Reverend Haynes began writing grants and making calls to the local building community. Bill Hart, a prominent Black architect and co-founder of  Carleton Hart Architecture, stepped up to create construction drawings for the church restoration. Prosper Portland contributed $700,000 to the effort. Other big names in Portland’s construction world agreed to help like Tom Kelly, President of the Neil Kelly Company. Despite the initial support, the project still languished because of how large it was in scope as well as the growing costs of construction.

In winter of 2019, Michelle contacted Home Builders Foundation Project Manager, Chris McDowell about applying for financial assistance to help with the project. But because the project didn’t align with HBF’s mission of providing shelter beds, it seemed there wasn’t much that could be done in the way of support. Over the next couple months, Chris and Michelle still kept contact. And one day in late Spring of 2019, HBF had received a large donation of bright white Behr paint that couldn’t be used by the PHFS shelter it was intended for, so Chris contacted Michelle and asked if Allen Temple would be interested. She obliged and over the next three years, whenever HBF had resources to spare that couldn’t go to support shelter projects, Chris would gladly redirect materials and labor to the Allen Temple project if they matched up.

Temple Interior

Some of the church’s needs were custom in nature, like reupholstering 35 of the original wood pews that had been partially destroyed from water that was used to put out the fire. Chris had a great contact for this in Leland Duck, owner of Revive Designs and Upholstery, who he had met through his wife’s former employer. Despite Leland having a relatively small operation, he agreed to do the massive project free-of-charge. When the property fence needed to be built, Chris was able to redirect 120 feet of leftover dog-eared cedar fencing originally donated by PARR and Simpson for the massive privacy fence at the Anisa’s Place shelter. In turn, Chris was able to connect Allen Temple with another Christian-focused organization and long-time HBF partner, Catalyst Partnerships NW, to build the fence. Catalyst coincidentally was looking for a volunteer project to take on after a recent cancellation, and easily stepped in to knock out the work over a weekend in early 2021.

Constructing Hope Trainees
2022 Constructing Hope Students

Formally trained in landscape architecture, Chris also put personal time in to organize the landscape design and installation with another familiar HBF colleague, Mel Jones, Board President of Constructing Hope and Director of Inclusion for Hoffman Construction. Chris and Mel took turns driving trucks and trailers to the Woodburn area to pick up donated plant materials. Mel enlisted a group of volunteers from Constructing Hope to help grub the site. Another team of volunteers came in to plant ornamental shrubs, install trees and mulch around them.

Garden Restoration

The final touches of landscape heralded the end of the massive project. After a near seven-year journey of construction, the hulking corner building would once again welcome its members through its giant wooden doors. Thanks in large part to overwhelming support from the local building community and with particular assistance from the HBF, an important part of the fabric of Black Portland lives on, hopefully for another hundred years.

In support of Black History Month, Home Builders Foundation is proud to celebrate partnerships with Portland’s Black community. For more information on how HBF is supporting BIPOC communities in Portland such as Allen Temple CME and Constructing Hope go to buildhopepdx.org.

Builders Help Preserve Portland Black History

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