Standing at the northeast corner of Summer Avenue & Highland Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee is the former Highland Heights United Methodist Church. The church was founded in 1913, but, like a lot of East Memphis, did not experience rapid growth until after World War II. According to a 1970 housing census, 60 percent of the homes in the area were built in the 1940s. These homes were mostly more modest than in previous decades, a clear indication of a shift from wealthy enclave to budding middle-class. Between 1950 and 1957, the current red brick Gothic-style sanctuary and the adjoining educational building were completed. Highland Heights United Methodist had a flourishing membership throughout the 1960s. Highland Heights United Methodist became a second home for many people in the community. As kids, they got baptized, attended Scouts and Sunday School. As young adults, they met their spouses and got married, had their children get baptized, and later watched those kids get married. Some would go on to have their funerals in the church.
In many ways, the church remained a reflection of the neighborhood. During the 1960s and 1970s, the growth of the church waned. White flight left as many as 1,100 homes vacant which turned once beautiful streets into blighted eyesores. By 1990, the church congregation began to experience stress in maintaining the facility and creating new programs to attract the changing demographics of the neighborhood. They were able to offer as many as 5,000 meals a year to those in need but struggled to gain the membership needed to continue to properly maintain the church. The congregation had dwindled down to 30 members, and with rising costs, Highland Heights United Methodist decided to close in June 2019.
After Highland Heights United Methodist Church closed, the property reverted back to the regional United Methodist Church organization who sold the property to a developer. Since the church has no historic designation and the area has no historic zoning protections, the option of demolition became a real threat. The developer’s plan for the property involved razing the existing buildings allowing for the construction of a gas station and convenience store. The public lamented the thought of losing such an important landmark in the community, and subsequent preservation advocacy efforts resulted in a petition with over 4,000 signatures, a temporary moratorium on the demolition of the church, and a rezoning of the property that better aligns with the form and architecture of the existing structures. In February 2022, The Avenue Community Church announced that the former Methodist Church would become their future home.
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