It’s been nearly two and a half months since United Church of Christ Congregational held its final service. Now the doors have been reopened to the community under new ownership bearing a new name – Uptown Brick and Bell.
Doug Brunell, pastor of Abundant Life church, attended UCCC’s final service. He knew it had been for sale for some time and wanted to see more of it.
“I called Dino (Groumoutis) and he said, ‘Let’s go look at it right now,’” Brunell said.
Brunell said when he walked through the doors, “It just impacted me.” On a “whim,” he decided to purchase it.
“I just felt like something needed to be done with it,” he said. “It was extremely beautiful.”
As COVID-19 temporarily shut down businesses and curbed large gatherings, Brunell and his wife Joan road tripped around the state to explore other small towns.
“One of the things we noticed was a lot of churches boarded up and we kind of see that happening in Creston,” Brunell said. “With this one ... I just couldn’t envision plywood thrown up on the windows.”
Brunell said the building “just had a feel to it” that feels “very therapeutic.”
“It just has this special character to it and I just love it like it is,” he said.
While he will have to make some improvements, Brunell said he will ultimately make additional restorations to maintain its current aesthetic. He said he’s not in a hurry to do any major work though – just what’s necessary to preserve it.
“It’s pretty perfect just as it is,” Brunell said.
Throughout its lifetime, the building not only served as a place of worship, but it was also the site for Open Table, which were free, at-will community meals sponsored by area businesses and organizations and open to all members of the public. Open Table was held every Tuesday night since 2004 until the coronavirus pandemic ended large group gatherings in March.
Brunell said he hopes to eventually bring Open Table back in partnership with area churches and would like to see a worship service to it, hosted by area ministers.
“Right now we just have it open for venue access, for weddings or anybody who would like to use it for personal reasons – all the standard things, whether it’s a family gathering or just a meeting. There’s different rooms that can be used,” he said.
The main floor of the building features a standard sanctuary with a capacity of 200, which includes its balcony seating. The basement is inclusive of a kitchen and fellowship hall, which Brunell said can seat 100 to 150 people, depending on the set-up.
“In the future we hope to add some food services to it,” he said. “There is a kitchen, but I don’t have a food license or anything like that. We will need to get licensed, have our kitchen inspected for caterers or if there’s some way we can provide some things.”
One idea Brunell envisions for the future of Uptown Brick and Bell is a coffee shop, which could hold hours beyond current offerings of currently open coffeehouses and possibly be run by other organizations or students.
History of Uptown Brick and Bell
The moniker “Uptown Brick and Bell” was pitched by friends of Brunell’s children, who took to social media for input.
“The ‘brick,’ because it’s a brick building, and ‘bell’ because of this beautiful bell,” he said.
According to research by UCCC member Betty Wallace of Creston, the Uptown Brick and Bell building located at 501 W. Montgomery St. was first built in 1924 by the Congregational Church, which first formed on Jan. 28, 1873, in the upper story of the then new library hall on the corner of Union and Maple streets.
As its congregation grew, the Congregational Church purchased a lot on South Maple Street, which was dedicated on June 14, 1874. Its growth lead to the building of a new church at 501 W. Montgomery St., which was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1888. However, as the building neared the completion of a remodel, it was destroyed by a fire on Sept. 15, 1920.
In 1923, the first cornerstone was placed to replace the ravaged building. On June 24, 1924, it was complete and dedicated five days later.
Brunell said one of the most interesting features of the building was its bell, which he estimates weighs thousands of pounds. It’s the original, which rings with the pull of a rope.
“The bell fell into the basement when the church burned, but it was sent to St. Louis (Missouri) where it was recast to have its identical tone,” said Wallace. “When the church was rededicated in 1924, the bell was in the belfry, its tower.”
Wallace said the bell was contributed by traveling men who made it point to reach Creston for their Sunday or weekend stops.
Wallace said the Congregational Church, which occupied the building, became the United Church of Christ Congregational after it merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches on April 20, 1961. At one point, it joined with Orient Plymouth Congregational Church, from 1990 to 2008.
Some members of UCCC wanted to change the name to just United Church of Christ, but kept UCCC due to the wishes of a longtime member – Lila Whitmarsh.
“She had been a member for many, many, many years and it was just her passion that we keep ‘congregational’ in there, so we did,” said Wallace.
UCCC held its final service Aug. 30, 2020, due to declining membership.
Celebrate and gather
Rates to reserve meeting space at Uptown Brick and Bell start at $105 groups of 25 for three hours with discounts offered during week days.
For additional information, contact Doug Brunell at 641-344-8412.