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Liberty Park church towers over area

Liberty Park United Methodist Church, built in 1911, catches the light of the setting sun on Monday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Liberty Park United Methodist Church, built in 1911, catches the light of the setting sun on Monday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Liberty Park United Methodist Church – located a block east of the South Perry Street commercial district – has been serving its community continuously since it was built in 1912, but the Liberty Park congregation actually began meeting among the trees at the site in 1905, making it one of the earlier suburban churches in Spokane.

The Rev. William S. Turner was instrumental in founding the church at 1526 E. 11th Ave. and was one of its 13 charter members. He spent much of his life savings – $725 – to purchase the land. The church’s final cost was $11,700, with $3,400 raised at the dedication and the $4,000 balance owned by the church extension society.

Membership swelled to 536 by 2005 but has declined significantly since.

“We are involved in the community and continue to host neighborhood events,” said Joanne Miller, trustee chairman of the church, “but like with so many churches across the country, our neighborhood is changing, and most of us who attend regularly have gray hair. Once, people walked here from their nearby homes; now most of us drive here from all over.”

Miller’s grandparents, James and Nanny Davey, and her parents, Vernon and Eva Doyl, were members – as she is today, even driving from her Spokane Valley home to attend. “This is my church,” she said.

Her father was baptized there in 1911. She was baptized and married there, and her children also were baptized at Liberty Park United Methodist.

The first structure at the site was a bungalow constructed in 1907, replaced by a fellowship hall in 1956. A parsonage was added in 1959.

The church itself opened in December 1912 and was a labor of love, literally, by the congregants. Although there is no architect of record listed, it is said that parishioner Leonard Starr designed it; he had been a draftsman for notable architect Albert Held and also did some work for Spokane’s most well-known architectural firm, Cutter and Malmgren. It is likely that member Harry Belander, a building contractor, played a large role in the construction, and trustee Evan Walser put his bricklaying and masonry skills to work on the building.

The one-and-a-half story, brick veneer church is in the late Gothic revival style that emphasized stained glass windows and a crenellated corner bell tower, complete with carillon, and a steep pitched roof. The interior arrangement of the sanctuary follows the Akron Plan, so named because it was popularized by an architect from that Ohio city. The pews are made of oak and are arranged in a semi-circular pattern, sloping toward the altar, which is located in the southwest corner of the church.

Of the nine late Gothic revival churches in the city, only Liberty Park United Methodist and First Presbyterian utilize the Akron Plan sanctuary layout.

All the original windows remain in use today, and improvements to the building have not changed the basic integrity of the church or its design. Miller said the congregation participates in Family Promise, an ecumenical group assisting people to transition from homelessness to having a home; providing food for Crosswalk, a teen shelter; clothing for Our Place; spaghetti dinners and summer barbecues free for neighbors; a women’s tea in affiliation with other churches; and a holiday bazaar. They also rent out space in their basement to a Montessori preschool and Spokane Alliance, a community organization.

Until recently, the church owned the house to the west. The congregation sold it to the church custodian. In addition, after Liberty Park’s own services at 9 a.m. on Sundays, the sanctuary is used at 11 a.m. by Grace of God Church.

The sanctuary was used in the short-lived Patty Duke TV series “Amazing Grace,” in which the actress portrayed a minister overcoming troubles of her own. Miller had a short walk-on role in the production, hugged by Duke on camera in one scene.

The church was placed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 2002, making it the third church in Spokane to receive that listing, after Grace Baptist, 1523 W. Mallon Ave., and Mount St. Michael’s, 8500 N. St. Michaels Road.

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