The second denial by the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission of Calvary Baptist Church’s request for a permit to raze the former residence known as the Spain House – at the corner of Madison and West Main streets – prolongs a dispute that still holds potential for a satisfactory resolution, but not at the current location.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations and conversations continue about reaching a solution agreeable to the principal parties.
If a Tupelo cause ever needed a philanthropic hand, this is it. The city doesn’t have the money to undertake removal and preservation, the commission has no resources, and the church says flatly it is not interested in preservation on the site because it does not fit Calvary’s long-term plans. Refurbishing the house for church use would be prohibitively expensive, church officials have said.
The compromise plainly appears to be removal, with adequate financing from reliable sources, public or private, to save the house and its representative history at another, complementary site.
The early 20th century structure, once owned by the Spain family and used for its funeral home business as well as a family dwelling for decades, is a vestige of the character Main Street had in a long-passed era. The neighborhood of which it is a symbol mostly has vanished, and ownership of the block on which it sits has passed mostly to 1,900-member Calvary, one of Tupelo’s deeply involved institutional citizens. It bought the former residence and other parcels in 2006 for expansion.
In 2009, long after Calvary’s intentions to use the site for other purposes became generally known, the Historic Preservation Commission sought local historic landmark status for the structure, and received it from the City Council. The status gave the large white-frame building protection, meaning it can’t be torn down, for purposes of the ongoing argument.
The house can convey a sense of the era in which it thrived on another site, which is essentially the argument put forward by Mayor Jack Reed, Jr. He continues urging an agreement that preserves the structure elsewhere and allows Calvary to move forward with its long-term campus development, including a probable parking lot where the house stands.
Calvary’s congregational leadership has made clear its intent to move forward one way or another because it has no use for the building and definite plans for the property.
Calvary’s leaders have made a generous offer to give the commission the former house and two years to find resources to move the structure to another Tupelo site for reassembly.
A major act of civic philanthropy would empower the possibilities.
NEMS Daily Journal