LAPORTE | An old church building with its high steeple helps give LaPorte's downtown its historic character and identity.
But the structure, dating to the late 1800s, could be in danger of the wrecking ball.
"It would be bad, I think, for the town to lose that," the Rev. Victor M. Frohne said.
St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 1101 Lincolnway, held its last service Aug. 5 and its congregation, first formed in 1867, has been dissolved.
Frohne was not the pastor but sometimes preached at the church his late father, Victor P. Frohne, presided over for a half century until the 1970s. Frohne, a member of the church as a child and for nearly the past 20 years, said the congregation numbered less than 100 in a parish that once had more than 600 people.
The former pastor, Helen Nusbaum, left several weeks ago but the church kept going with guest preachers each week until closing. With less money from a dwindling congregation, Frohne said the church, with just $20,000 remaining in reserve, could not afford to replace a 1950s boiler with a new one that could cost about $100,000. He said the building also needs close to $1 million of repairs.
With the congregation dissolved, ownership of the building will transfer to the Indiana Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ, the parent organization based in Indianapolis, Frohne said.
People Engaged in Preservation, based in LaPorte, is involved in searching for a church or some other buyer that might be interested in using the building.
"A landmark could disappear," City Councilman Ron McAtee said.
A concert hall, art gallery and museum are among the other uses being discussed.
"There are a lot of possibilities other than a parking lot," McAtee said.
For the past several years, IU Health LaPorte Hospital has expressed an interest in acquiring the church and tearing it down to create more parking.
McAtee and other supporters of preserving history frowned upon that possibility.
"It's an asset to the city and part of the skyline," said McAtee, who hopes publicity increases the odds of finding a buyer committed to saving the structure. "There's hope if things get published and things are known that the ball can get rolling to save it."