Owners Seek Uses for Historic Clayborn Temple

By Bill Dries

Owners of the historic Clayborn Temple church at Hernando and Pontotoc are just about ready for visitors to the Presbyterian turned AME church that has been boarded up and fenced off for the last 18 years.

Clayborn Temple opens its doors after 18 years of decay and deterioration for a Tuesday, Oct. 25, blessing ceremony. The Clayborn Reborn effort is still seeking a use for the 19th century Presbyterian turned AME church and landmark.

(Alan Howell)

Rob Thompson and Frank Smith, along with Montgomery Martin Contractors, have been working for a year since they got title to the church to restore it to a basic, if preliminary use.

And Tuesday, Oct. 25, they will open the sanctuary to the public for a Clayborn Reborn Blessing Ceremony at 4 p.m.

The public will see a work in progress, with parts of the church’s stained-glass windows missing, and a wooden floor replacing the flooded floor that had rotted away as water found its way into the church basement. Parts of the stone walls show through in some gaps in the once elaborate church façade.

The blessing is the first in a series of events the Clayborn Reborn effort is still adding to its calendar – it’s a different kind of pre-vitalization from recent efforts in the Downtown area.

“The idea is a season of reactivating the building,” said Thompson, who emphasized that the last year of efforts has been more about making the building habitable than a full restoration.

“This is about more than getting cool people to see a cool building,” he added. “We want to save, preserve and restore.”

Smith said he and Thompson approached the project in phases, starting with getting title to the property.

“We didn’t think that it was even possible,” Smith said. “But we finally got title last October. We initially thought we were going to tear out the middle and build a new building inside the stone walls and use the façade. We were so grateful to learn that the skeleton of the place is still sound enough to build on.”

In the process, Smith and Thompson have learned a lot about the building’s past of more than a century. They are still fleshing out a specific history of what was added onto the church and are looking for church pews that vanished during the church’s decline.

They are fielding event ideas and bookings as well as items from the history of the church through the @claybornreborn Facebook page.

“That period of discovery was challenging for sure,” Smith said. “I’m not sure we reached the point of discouraging. There were days when we thought we are sure working hard with nothing to show for it.”

The Oct. 25 ceremony will be followed by a “call to artists.”

“The idea is that we want to bring a wide diversity of artists to use their creativity,” Thompson said. “This space sort of screams performing arts. We have performing arts options Downtown, so how could this be used in a different way, in a non-traditional way?”