FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH EXPANSION
On January 15th, 1953, one of the worst fires Lethbridge had ever experienced destroyed the First Baptist Church building located on the corner of 8th Street and 4th Avenue South. While the Paramount Theatre (see page 266) located across the street, immediately housed Sunday services, First Baptist Church appointed Ralph Thrall as chairman of the Building Committee just ten days later.
Years earlier, prior to the purchase of the old Knox Church on 4th Avenue South, First Baptist had contemplated a new building under Mr. Frear’s pastorate so Thrall already had sketches from Toronto architect J.F. Brown on file. The firm in his name still existed and Bruce Brown, son of J. Francis Brown, was engaged and met with the Building Committee on February 24th, 1953. Bruce Brown had studied at the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts in France from 1923 to 1924, and while many of his peers had adopted classical revival or modern styles for ecclesiastical commissions, Brown remained faithful to the modern Gothic style and developed the plans for First Baptist Church accordingly. Ultimately, the church was designed under the auspices of Bruce Brown and Brisley in collaboration with Norman Fooks of Lethbridge, who provided local support.
On May 11th, 1953 drawings for the new church on 5th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets were received, and were ratified by May 13th, 1953. By October 1953, a contract for the construction was awarded to the Dominion Construction Company for $227,519.00. On January 16th, 1955 the building was dedicated.
In 1974, the building was expanded under Contractor Wesbridge Construction Limited to provide additional Christian education space by adding a west wing. Lyal Sakamoto and Alvin Fritz both remember working on this wing as labourers for their father's firms, Wesbridge and Otto Fritz Masonry Constuction Ltd. respectively. Fritz recalls that the over-ambitious crew had built three-quarters of the south wall before realizing they hadn't taken into account the window locations. The wall was quickly altered to accommodate the windows and the balance of the project concluded without further delay. Nonetheless, this event still draws a chuckle from Sakamoto and Fritz whenever they reminisce about the project.
In 2002, Alvin Reinhard Fritz Architect Inc. was asked to provide design services for the facility expansion. Carlos Roman, Project Delivery Manager for the project, attended the church and collaborated effectively in determining the Program and building geometry. The primary church representative was former City of Lethbridge Alderman and local automotive businessman, Art Sanford. Art had considerable experience in construction and proved to be an invaluable resource throughout the entire process right to conclusion.