Church members see memories go up in smoke as historic downtown Kansas City church burns

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The fire that destroyed a historic church west of downtown has been ruled accidental. Fire investigators determined that the fire at Evangelistic Center Church started in the northwest corner of the building around the kitchen and furnace room.

Investigators were able to tear down some walls and gather enough evidence to determine that the fire was not intentionally set and found no evidence of a crime, but were unable to come up with an exact cause on Monday. A devastating fire like this in a historic building makes it more important that investigators come to a quick and concise conclusion for the sake of the church congregation.

“You lose a little piece of the community," said ATF spokesperson John Ham.

Some of those in the church community showed up Monday to to see the damage for themselves.

"I think everybody’s still in shock, I know I am," said Joanne Searle, who has attended the Evangelistic Center Church since 1972. "It's like losing a part of history. My kids grew up in this church. Mu son and his wife were married in this church."

Searle's daughter Ames, who came out to see the devastation with her mom, said she has fond childhood memories here.

"On just about every corner of the church there were stairs and we would just go up and down and up and down as kids, and try and find hiding places," said Ames while watching the building burn.

Another person watching memories go up in smoke was Ben Kenny, a member of the Scottish Rite of Kansas City.

Kenny knows a lot about the history of the building at Truman Road and Troost Avenue.

In the late 1800’s it was the Dundee Methodist Church and bought in 1903 by the Scottish Rite, which is a Masonic lodge. At that time, it was a growing group of masons whose membership included the most prominent men in Kansas City, including the Bloch family, Kempers and even President Harry S. Truman.

“You know the history. I have had so many people tell me since this fire that they have drove by here so many times in their lives and not realized what this building was," Kenny said. "So it’s just sad that it takes a tragedy like this to realize what it stood for."

As the story goes, President Truman would go to the Masonic lodge as a sort or refuge from the Secret Service, telling his detail he did not need them because he was with his mason brothers and felt pretty safe.

In 1903, the Scottish Rite moved and the building returned to being a church.

Now that the criminal investigation is complete, the building has been turned over to the church. It will be up the the owner and insurance company to decide what happens to this building next.