A historic church in Marion designed by a renowned Black architect is in danger of demolition. Indiana Landmarks says the idea for First Friends Church came in 1914, when the local Quaker congregation sought a new house of worship and hired Samuel Plato to design it. The church, which has sat vacant for more than a decade, was included in the organization’s 10 Most Endangered list earlier this year.
Around INdiana Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman spotlighted the church in our Endangered INdiana series.
Plato lived and worked in Marion for nearly 20 years in the early 20th century and designed numerous houses, schools, stores, churches and an apartment complex.
“Samuel Plato…is representative of a guy who was really ahead of his time, really was a pioneer not only in architecture but in race relations,” said Grant County historian Bill Munn. “And in African American business, he was a highly successful businessman. I would say he was the closest Marion could come to Madam C.J. Walker.”
The Indiana Historical Bureau says Plato was one of a few Black architects to win federal contracts for post offices and housing. He was also known for integrating Black and white workers on his projects and winning trade union membership for Black craftsmen.
Indiana Landmarks says Plato’s focus on race relations was mirrored by the Quaker congregation, which sought equality for the local Black community.
Munn says the First Friends Church building is a primary work of large building construction designed Plato still in existence. However, one of the large stained glass windows was damaged by a wind storm several years ago and is now covered with plywood, and the interior of the building is worse.
“[It’s an] an unsafe building, probably close either falling in or being demolished. So, it’s on the near end of its existence,” said Munn.
Just as when it was built over 100 years ago by Plato, First Friends Church could once again serve as a beacon to help build a foundation in Marion’s downtown, according to Collen Cramer, head of museum for the Marion Public Library.
“A revitalization of this space can help bring life back into the community because the space gives a community part of its identity,” said Cramer. “People congregate around spaces, and turning this into a space again for people to communicate around would give a sense of vitality back to the area here.”
You can learn more about First Friends Church from Indiana Landmarks by clicking here.