Editorial: First Christian tower renovation is a cause for community celebration

The refurbished First Christian Church tower is shown along with the spire of nearby St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

Photo by Hadley Fruits

Columbus marked a milestone of sorts recently when First Christian Church announced the completion of a $3.2 million tower repair project that was years in the planning and execution.

No other structure in the city so cements our foundation as a gravitational center of Modernist architecture and design, so it’s to our credit that when the 82-year-old icon faced its hour of need, our community responded, as did the architecture and preservation communities nationwide.

The tower has been in known need of repair for a decade, but in the last several years those needs became profound. Time and the elements had left a host of deferred maintenance issues, and inspections said the building could become unsafe if those were left unaddressed.

Here’s how The Republic described the renovation effort in 2022, months before a fundraising goal was met: “The goal is to restore the partially cracking, 165-foot brick tower that rises above the Eliel Saarinen-designed church, the first Modernist structure in the city that spurred Columbus to become a big architectural destination.”

Money was raised beginning with First Christian Projects Fundraising Committee chairman Jeff Logston and expanding to include local, state and national faith and philanthropic benefactors.

“The amount of alignment of everything that we have seen with all this has been off the charts,” Landmark Columbus Foundation director Richard McCoy said in December 2022. “And it truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

A fundraising effort collected the $3.2 million needed for a total restoration, and it speaks to the significance of the architecture that more than $2 million of that total came from outside Bartholomew County. Funding included a $500,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service and a $250,000 grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places.

Tracy Souza, president and CEO of The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, noted about 70 donors contributed to enable matching funds from the Jeffris Family Foundation, which assists in the preservation of historic sites for nonprofit organizations in the Midwest. “The partnership formed between Heritage Fund, First Christian Church, and Landmark Columbus Foundation is quite special. Each party brings an important component to the table to make this project successful,” Souza said.

“The generosity, encouragement, and support from all sources have been overwhelming,” said Tim Bond, executive minister of First Christian Church. “To know that such a diverse group from near and far have found an interest in the building, architecture, and history and can come together in harmony for a project like this is truly moving.”

As McCoy said, it was a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for Columbus to preserve arguably its most iconic structure for future generations, and it took a concerted effort to see the project through to its conclusion.

It’s an accomplishment to celebrate as well as a demonstration of an ongoing recipe for success: Our community once again pulls together to accomplish audacious goals “the Columbus way.”