First Baptist defends position on YMCA building

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 23, 2004

To the editor:

In the interest of the City of Selma and the membership of the First Baptist Church we feel compelled to respond to the letter from Elton Ralston concerning the Old YMCA building, which was published in the STJ on Thursday, July 15, 2004. The Selma Historic Development Commission, as the body charged with upholding the Historic Ordinance of Selma, did not originate by chance, but evolved after the citizens of Selma became so interested in preserving our heritage and our historic past and recognized the importance of preservation to our future. Although a small group of local people met in the early 1970s and formed the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society, this awakening did not come about until the magnificent Hotel Albert was torn down and people recognized what a treasure had been lost. As historic preservation progressed across the county, it became a national objective all the way to the White House to “Save America’s Treasures.” We in Selma have been fortunate through these past 30 years to grow in our preservation efforts and with the support of the community, to maintain our historic resources and thereby ensure and increase our economic vitality.

In the demolition denial letter the Selma Historic the Selma Historic Development Commission expressed eagerness to assist the First Baptist Church in any way we could to find a solution to the problem of Selma’s Old YMCA building, short of demolition, for this valuable historic resource. Through the Commission, church leaders knew before it was purchased that the building was under the protection of the Historic Ordinance and should not be torn down. We again offer our help. We would love to sit down, with whomever, to discuss the problem and help the Church find a solution that would be beneficial to both the community and the Church.

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We love our historic downtown churches. Each church is a historic treasure. They are as important to us as any other historic building and we are eager to save our old building’s for Selma’s future. There are as many possible solutions, other than an expensive restoration, available to the First Baptist Church that would satisfy our historic ordinance. The Church was never told how to preserve the building or that it must be put back to its original shape and form regardless of the cost. The shortsighted building contractor quoted in the letter echoes the sentiments of the “nay-sayers” of the St. James Hotel restoration, the Bridge Tender’s House and Grace Hall to name just a few. If we had taken their recommendations we would have lost these treasures years ago. Although we have tried diligently, maybe we, as a Commission, have failed in our efforts to impress our citizens with the importance of our past to our future. To quote Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, “If e don’t care about our past, we don’t have very much hope for our future.”

We fervently believe that if there is no compromise and resolution to this conflict, the city of Selma and the First Baptist church both will be losers.

The Selma Historic Development Commission

Scott Patterson, Chairman

Elise Blackwell, Secretar