Bethel Church Park Restoration
Bethel Park in Houston, Texas, 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. Constructed by former slaves, the church was designed by James M. Thomas, a noted architect of African-American churches. Although a 2005 fire destroyed much of the church’s interior, the 1923 and 1950 exterior masonry walls were salvaged by creative strengthening and restoration techniques.
Though 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 of the church walls.
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.