After months of clashes over the fate of Tremont Temple Baptist Church in downtown Macon, workers began tearing down the historic building Monday.
The congregation arranged the demolition of the church to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts. The site is across Pine Street from The Medical Center of Central Georgia.
Also Monday, the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Commission’s Design Review Board approved the look of the proposed 1,800-square-foot restaurant.
The proposed design would incorporate some of the bricks and stained-glass windows from the 115-year-old church. The new building will feature “a false parapet that mimics some of the facade features of the former church,” according to the zoning commission’s staff report.
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Historic preservationists tried to save the structure by appealing to the commission, asking the panel to deny the demolition -- which the board did in December.
The board reversed its decision in late February, however, in a 3-2 vote, allowing the demolition to go forward.
The church agreed to a deal with developer Lou Patel of D&D Middle Ga. LLC in November to build the Dunkin’ Donuts. The building itself was decaying, and the congregation had been out of the property for several years.
After the church had signed a contract with Patel, former Historic Macon Executive Director Josh Rogers led an effort for that organization to buy the church in order to preserve it.
The church was an important site during the civil rights era. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., among others, once preached there.
Rogers said in February that the property wasn’t in as bad a shape as previously described, saying that his organization wanted to find a new purpose for the church.
But real estate agent Jim Rollins, representing the congregation, said he had previously tried to negotiate with Historic Macon to purchase the property, to no avail.
Ethiel Garlington, the new executive director of Historic Macon, said Monday that he wasn’t aware that demolition of the building had started. He said the organization had no plans to try to stop the razing once the P&Z board made its decision.
He said he hopes the Tremont Temple situation will raise awareness for future preservation efforts.
“Well, truthfully, we hope that when people actually see the building coming down, it’s traumatic in that people realize we can’t go back, and these buildings will be lost forever,” he said. “Tremont Temple is, as we all know, both historically important to our community, and it could have served another use in the future. But after today, those options will be off the table and we won’t have anything to look forward to. But hopefully, we can learn from this and look to the future and be more proactive in the future with other buildings.”
The project will take about a month before the site is made ready for the doughnut shop, according to Samuel James of SACAL Environmental, the company handing the demolition.
Staff writers Linda S. Morris and Grant Blankenship contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.