Event Honors History, Heritage and Future of First Church of Christ

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (June 08, 2017) – The First Church of Christ, Scientist opened its doors this morning to close to 100 community leaders from both sides of the bridge connecting West Palm Beach to the Town of Palm Beach, who have expressed interest over the past few months in visiting the inside of the church that has anchored the eastern entrance to the City of West Palm Beach for 89 years. The building, called the most architecturally significant in the area by New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger on a tour of the area with then-mayor Joel Daves, has a remarkable history and heritage that involves some of Palm Beach’s founding families, including congregant Marjorie Merriweather Post, celebrated Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner whose local workshop crafted the limestone columns and specially blended material for the exterior, and the remarkable story of the church’s designer, Philadelphia-based Julian Abele, regarded as the most significant African-American architect of the 20th century.

Speakers at this morning’s event included renowned architect David M. Childs, who won the global competition for an architect to design One World Trade Center in New York and serves as the architect for the 25-story office building that Related Cos. proposed for the site. The church has been searching for more than a decade for a way to preserve the church despite the financial challenges associated with a shrinking congregation. The ideal scenario would be to maintain the church in perpetuity with a generous endowment so that it can operate in its original context and use, rather than have the site sold to a developer that would logically maximize the site’s buildable square footage, the typical approach presented to the church by close to 20 developers.

Related’s solution, warmly embraced by the church, is to occupy just 17 percent of the site with a tall, slender Class-A office building positioned adjacent to the existing tall office buildings, but stepped to the north, off-center, to minimize view blockage from neighboring buildings and to create an ideal backdrop for the church itself in the form of a verdant, living wall of greenery. “This is the ideal scenario for us,” said Janet Mosher, an active member of the church. “Related’s approach is sensitive to not just the site but to the heritage and traditions of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, adding elements such as the 200-foot long reflecting pool inspired by the I.M. Pei design of the Christian Science church in Boston. Mr. Childs as a young man integrated a similar reflecting pool when he designed the master plan for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Now, if this project is approved, we will have a similar feature that will enhance the experience for congregants and citizens alike.”   The plans also include moving the church’s Christian Science Reading Room, now in its own building at 138 Lakeview Ave., to a new, two-story space with lots of glass and natural light along the south-facing side of the parking garage, activating the Okeechobee Blvd. experience in the block leading to the waterfront.

Bonnie Ko, chairwoman of the First Church of Christ, Scientist Board of Directors, welcomed this morning’s guests near the front steps of the church and introduced church historian, Palm Beach resident Cynthia Gibbons, who addressed the architectural significance of the 1928 building and the rather amusing exchanges between the church and the talented and opinionated architect, Addison Mizner, who argued successfully for an exterior color of his choosing, rather than the preferences of the congregants. As the group moved into the church foyer, the church’s organist, Marklin Green, played pieces on the very rare Gottfried organ. There is just one other pipe organ in the area at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach.

Emceed by Church member Gloria Hudspeth, a presentation followed that included a history of Christian Science by Cindy L. Minnotte, C.S.; a description of the site, sensitivity and magnificent location by David Childs; and remarks from Rev. Gerald D. Kisner, Pastor of the oldest church in West Palm Beach, the Tabernacle Baptist Church. He focused on how difficult and important it is to maintain and sustain historic churches. Rev. William Washington, Pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, spoke about how important it is to celebrate the work of an African-American architect as a role model, and expressed gratitude to Related for honoring Mr. Abele in the way they propose, with public space named in his honor as part of the proposed project. Harvey E. Oyer III, historian and partner in the West Palm Beach office of Shutts & Bowen, described the endowment plan in detail, noting that it will set a new benchmark that will prompt participation of more developers to contribute to the preservation and maintenance of our city’s historic buildings. Finally Kenneth A. Himmel, President and CEO of Related Urban, spoke about his company’s commitment to this iconic project. He noted that Related took great pains to maintain the historic church at the center of the CityPlace project, and that through all the retail cycles over the past 17 years, Related has demonstrated their commitment to not just that project that launched national investor interest in West Palm Beach, but to the city as a whole. In 2008, amid the worst financial crisis in recent memory, it opened the city’s newest Class-A office tower – almost fully leased — and followed that investment with one of the nation’s most unconventional convention center hotels that opened 18 months ago, and is operating at a level of success far beyond projections and has made the convention center more successful than anyone anticipated.

Guests associated with Palm Beach included Laurel Baker, Ted Cooney, John Blades, David and Maria Hamilton, Amanda Skier, and more. West Palm Beach leaders included Mayor Jeri Muoio, Commissioner Keith James, Commissioner Paula Ryan, former West Pam Beach Mayor Joel Daves, Dennis Grady, Raphael Clemente, Joe Chase, Beatrice Coleman, Jack Frost, Friederike Mittner, Bill Newgent, Melissa Nash, Rose Ann Brown, Paul Twitty, Michael Odom,  David Smith and Bob Sanders.

The development plan for the Class-A building not only preserves the church, but opens a path to long-term financial sustainability for the congregation to rebuild. An endowment built into the plan will allow First Church of Christ, Scientist to continue its 89-year tradition of holding services in the church, where generations of congregants have worshipped.

For more information on the proposed project, please visit www.oneflaglerwpb.com