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Its glory days gone, Faith Temple will fall

The termite-riddled structure will come down to make way for parking, but the memories made in the cavernous building are proving much more durable.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Soon Faith Temple, the hulking two-story landmark at 950 Fifth Ave. S, will be flattened, and the property on which it stands will become a parking lot.

Demolition of the 220,000-square-foot building in which the Rev. Billy Graham, Billy Sunday and other famous evangelists preached began Friday and is expected to be complete in two weeks.

Barbara Reynolds, a member of the church board that owns the building and daughter of Dr. Charles M. Leaming, legendary pastor of Faith Temple from 1947 until his death in 1988, is heartbroken.

[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Barbara Reynolds wipes tears away Friday morning as she watches the demolition of Faith Temple begin.
"My life is there," Mrs. Reynolds said. "I was 12 years old in 1946 when we came here."

To her father, Faith Temple was the "old glory barn."

But its illustrious days have long since faded.

"The building is in such disrepair. It is just terrible," Mrs. Reynolds said the day before demolition began.

Trae Stokes, the Seminole contractor who expects to buy the property this week, concurs.

"It's so eaten up with termites," he said. "There is no value in the structure. I'm going to turn it into parking."

He hopes people attending events at Tropicana Field will use the lot.

The building had been on the market for about eight years, said Liz Wallace of Realty Executives. This week it will be sold for "substantially less" than the $475,000 the owners wanted, she said.

Ms. Wallace, a longtime St. Petersburg resident, is sad to see the building destroyed.

"It was a big church in our area. I hate to see it go," she said. "I like history."

Faith Temple, which was built by tent revivalist Dr. W.T. Watson, was dedicated in 1925. During the Depression, however, it was sold and turned into a warehouse. In 1943 it again became a place of worship when it was bought by the Rev. Mel Morris.

Mrs. Reynolds' father was invited to preach at the church during Morris' tenure and returned after the St. Petersburg preacher died suddenly.

"They (the congregation) asked my father to take the church," Mrs. Reynolds said. "After prayer and talking about it, he and my mom decided it was the Lord's will for them to do so. . . . We've been here from then on."

Her father built a broadcast ministry that was heard locally on WSUN and reached into the Caribbean, Central America and Africa.

"The mail continues to come," from those who apparently are hearing rebroadcasts of the programs, Mrs. Reynolds said.

"My mother, my sister and I, we always sang with him," she added.

In the late 1970s, when it appeared that Faith Temple would be demolished because of the arrival of the interstate, the church moved to Largo. Leaming later returned to minister to the small congregation that remained.

When he died in 1988, Ben N. Nelson and his wife, Nancy, took over the ministry. After the Nelsons retired in 1993, attempts were made to start various ministries at the church, but Faith Temple never reclaimed its glory days.

Mrs. Nelson, who visited the building last week, is unhappy that it will be torn down.

"There are a lot of memories there, I tell you," she said.

Friday Mrs. Reynolds removed tapes of her father's sermons, music, radio programs, books and photographs.

"We've saved one pulpit and the communion table and the piano that we are going to give to a church," she said.

Though Faith Temple may disappear from the city's landscape, said Mrs. Reynolds, "We'll always have our memories."

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