Historic church starts an addition

First Congregational on Collingwood Blvd. to spend over $400,000

Tiffany stained glass windows are featured in the First Congregational Church on Collingwood Boulevard in the Old West End.
Tiffany stained glass windows are featured in the First Congregational Church on Collingwood Boulevard in the Old West End.

Members and leaders of an Old West End church that has anchored its block for almost 100 years turned over the dirt on a structural renovation Sunday, with Mayor Mike Bell wielding one of the shovels.

First Congregational Church, 2315 Collingwood Blvd., known for its rare Tiffany stained-glass windows, is constructing a new Welcome Center at a cost of more than $400,000 at the rear of the stately building.

The addition will be a new enclosed entrance portico with other renovations to serve as the church’s regular main entrance.

The addition and renovations will also include new restrooms, heated sidewalks to thaw ice, and push-button doors and a wheelchair-accessible entrance.

Tom Walter, the moderator, or head of the church committee, said the front entrance was used for years after the church was built in 1914 because there were no parking lots and people walked to the church or parked along Collingwood.

The church now has its own rear parking lot and uses a lot across Virginia Avenue, so congregants enter through the side and the rear.

“This is the first change to the facilities that anyone can remember,” Mr. Walter said.

The front entrance, flanked by huge pillars, will be maintained for ceremonial entrances, such as weddings.

After the choir sang “Bless This House of Worship,” Mayor Bell thanked the congregation for its confidence in the city’s future.

The mayor, who is embroiled in a re-election campaign against Councilman D. Michael Collins, said he saw significance in the Biblical message of the day, from the Book of James: “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.”

“You have a piece of history that a lot people across the world would love to have. That you have the commitment to our city to be able to do this, I’m very thankful as a mayor,” Mr. Bell said.

The ceremony took place outdoors where the new addition is to be built in time for a Dec. 21 Christmas concert by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, said Senior Pastor Larry Vriezelaar.

Mr. Vriezelaar said the renovation arose from the city’s ongoing $5.6 million reconstruction of Collingwood Boulevard between Monroe and Central Avenue, with new sidewalks, curb cuts, paving, and landscaping. The work has created necessary inconvenience and some people were upset by the removal of 72 mature trees.

“The corridor is going to be so gorgeous. We said, ‘Let’s be part of the revitalization,’ ” he said. Contractors have gone out of their way to build and maintain temporary crossings of the construction for the benefit of residents and worshipers, he said.

He said the design of the welcome center is in the style of the original church and the plans were approved by the Old West End Historic District Commission.

Mr. Vriezelaar, pastor for eight years and Toledo police chaplain for 21 years, said First Congregational is the oldest Protestant church in Toledo. The church was founded in 1833 and built its first church on St. Clair Street.

The contractor for the Welcome Center is Midwest Church Design & Construction.

Mr. Bell’s opponent campaigned Sunday walking door-to-door and, later in the afternoon, giving remarks at the annual banquet of the United Muslim Association of Toledo at the Stranahan Theater.The theme of the event was “Compassion in Islam, Compassion in City of Toledo.”

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.