The Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church has been a part of the west Charlotte community since 1921. Now, this piece of Charlotte history is at risk of being torn down because of multiple violations of city ordinances.
Though the building has been vacant since 1977, it served as a significant cultural landmark for Charlotte’s African-American community and a centerpiece of the Biddleville neighborhood, according to the Historic Landmarks Commission. The historic building is located near Johnson C. Smith University’s campus, though the congregation now worships in a building on Tuckaseegee Road.
Clarence Armbrister, president of JCSU, said in a statement that the university is dedicated to preserving historic buildings on campus. The university originally planned to convert the building into classrooms for its School of Social Work and administrative offices. But Armbrister, who started as president this year, wanted to review the school’s master plan to “ensure the best use of the property,” according to the statement.
The church is a designated historical landmark designed by Louis Asbury, a native Charlottean who was one of the first licensed architects in the state. Asbury also designed the First National Bank building, the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and the Myers Park United Methodist Church.
In March, the city first inspected building and found 20 violations of ordinances: the floor was compromised, parts of the roof were decaying and the subfloor was rotting, among other issues.
After a hearing in June, the city ordered JCSU to either “remove or demolish and remove this structure or building” by Oct. 10.
But demolishing the property isn’t a simple process. Preservation North Carolina has protective deeds that prohibit its demolition.
Because of this, the city would have to receive a certificate of appropriateness from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, said Ted Alexander, Preservation NC’s regional director for the western part of the state.
The commission can then put a 365-day delay on the demolition.
Alexander said Preservation NC has been in contact with the city, JCSU and the landmark commission.
“I think we will be able to get our heads together and work out a solution, so that it protects the building,” he said. And if the yearlong delay is put in effect, Alexander said he thinks they will have plenty of time to work out a plan.
The city doesn’t necessarily want the building demolished, either. Ben Krise, code enforcement director for Charlotte, said the city’s goal is to preserve the church as well.
“Demolition would occur if there were no other viable options,” he said.
The city has not yet applied for a certificate of appropriateness, said Dan Morrill, consulting director for the Historic Landmarks Commission.
Alexander said he doesn’t think the church will be demolished, but the order was a wake-up call for everyone involved.
“It happens from time to time, sometimes a building is just not on the radar screen, and it gets put on the radar screen,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”