Bradenton Revival Temple was built in 1933 on faith — so declares the cornerstone of the coral-stone structure.
But that faith is now being tested.
The owners of the vacant old church at 725 Manatee Ave. W. will ask the city council Wednesday to allow them to demolish the distinctive-looking structure, now called the Kali Building.
Melton Little and Scott Kallins, local attorneys, purchased the building in 2001 to renovate into law offices for their firm, but the cost of doing so proved prohibitive.
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Little and Kallins referred all questions last week to their attorney, William Robinson, who was not available Friday. But in a report they will present to the council, the Fawley Bryant Architects firm estimated the cost to convert the 6,063-square-foot building into usable office space was about $1.5 million, compared with $909,400 to construct a new building of the same size.
“It breaks our heart to even suggest that we take it down,” Little was quoted as saying in a May 2008 Bradenton Herald article about the owners seeking a demolition permit from the city Architectural Review Board.
In a letter to the review board dated March 24, 2008, Little offered the cornerstone, the church pews, various photographs of the building and other historical items to the Manatee County Historical Society.
“We’ve both been in this community a long time and I’m keenly aware of the sensitivity of the building, and believe me, if we had another option we would do it,” Little said then.
The Manatee County Historical Commission has designated the Revival Temple as one of the top 12 endangered historic buildings in the county.
The review board denied the demolition request last year, which prompted the engineering report from the Fawley Bryant firm and the appeal to the city council.
The report found one-third of the roof structure to be “so infested with termites that all framing should be removed and replaced.”
Numerous other deficiencies were noted, but the report indicated a more detailed review was required to verify some of them.
The conclusion noted that a “renovated building’s useful life is estimated at approximately one-half of that of a new building, with a new building’s useful life estimated to be 40 years, and a renovated building’s useful life estimated at 20 years.”
For Cathy Slusser, director of historic resources for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court office, the loss of any historical building would be an irreplaceable loss to the city and county.
“It’s at the entrance to downtown Bradenton,” Slusser said. “What makes downtown unique compared to St. Petersburg or Sarasota is our historic buildings.
“We can’t afford to lose these resources,” she said. “It’s such a charming building.”
Slusser also questioned whether the engineer who did the structural review has any preservation experience.
“Any engineer can tell you it needs demolishing unless you hire one who is trained in historic preservation,” she said.
‘God gave him a vision’
The Rev. C.G. Meyers founded the Bradenton Revival Temple in the early 1930s after “God gave him a vision to build his own Bible school,” according to his granddaughter, Betty Nichols, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Nichols recently presented the Manatee County Central Library with a portfolio of photos and a brief history of her grandfather and the church.
According to Nichols, Meyers attended seminary school at the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, studying under a famous evangelist, the Rev. Aimee Semple McPherson.
After graduating in 1927, Meyers “bought himself a large, two-pole tent and began holding old-fashion revival meetings all around the country.”
It was while he was on the road preaching that he had his vision and, in 1931, started building the Bradenton Temple as a sanctuary and seminary.
Classes were held in the winter; during the summer, the reverend would conduct tent revivals across the country to continue preaching his message and converting new members.
In a telephone interview Friday, Nichols said her grandfather was a charismatic and dynamic preacher.
“He was a fiery minister, like there were in the 1930s,” she said. “He could hold your attention for sure.”
Both of Nichols’ parents — Evelyn Dorothy, Meyers’ daughter, and Horace McClain — graduated from the seminary and were ordained ministers.
She attended school in Bradenton and Palmetto until eighth grade when she moved to North Carolina, where her father preached in a church.
As a child, Nichols remembers finding the Revival Temple fascinating.
“It seemed so large,” she said.
Soon the seminary outgrew the building on Manatee Avenue West and moved to a three-story building in Palmetto, which included room and board for out-of-town students, a dining room, kitchen and many more classrooms.
Meyers died in the early 1970s, and his son and his wife, the Revs. Wilford and Alma Meyers, continued the ministry at the Bradenton Revival Temple until their deaths.
Nichols last visited Bradenton around 1992 and noticed the deteriorating condition of the church.
“It would be neat to save the building,” she said, “but I’m 76 years old and I understand there has to be progress.”
Whatever happens to the building, Nichols hopes they can save the large ficus tree growing on the side of the church.
“I had many good times playing in that tree,” she said.
The last time Slusser was inside the church, the experience moved her to speak up even more for the preservation of the building.
“In the old Sunday School classroom above the stage,” the director of historic resources recalled, “was a blackboard with the last Sunday school lesson still written on it.”