May 12, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

The distinctive profile of this building has caught my attention for years. I’ve noticed it as I’ve driven along Webberville Road cutting through to Pleasant Valley. I’ve noticed it from the window of Austin’s Metrorail. I’ve noticed it when we’ve walked through the neighborhood on the East Austin Studio Tour. The front façade of the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church has two towers flanking a gabled entry. I can’t help draw the connection with this classic profile and the historic Gothic cathedrals of Europe, just for the fact they are designed with the same shape.

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Of course it is a stretch to make that connection. Though they both are places of worship, nearly everything else is different. The cathedrals were massive structures built ostentatiously as civic monuments towering over the rest of the city. Mount Carmel is a humble building. It was built as a neighborhood church with nothing showy or embellished beyond the most essential elements. A local carpenter from a past generation must have decided those towers were worth building at both front corners. We’ll never know if he was inspired by photographs, or by revival church designs built in larger American cities, or whether he or others from the church had visited the monuments of Europe. There are at least a few African American country churches of that era that share the same profile, so there may have been a pattern.

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These days, few of those old churches still exist. And Mt. Carmel’s surroundings are radically changing. The building could use some attention, with settling foundations, windows in need of repair, and the vinyl residing materials showing their age. The congregation appears to be sharing their facility with a Spanish ministry, so perhaps another group’s energies may help preserve the building. But maybe the biggest challenge for Mt. Carmel isn’t the tattoo parlor next door. It may be the new buildings just down the street. Will the contemporary designs of the adjacent new buildings completely redefine this neighborhood? Will there be no place in the future for the humble little towers framing a modest doorway that leads into this historic sanctuary?

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Mt Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, 2500 Webberville Rd, Austin, Texas

Worship Space/ Sacred Architecture/ Austin/ Historic Preservation