TAMPA ― The Seminole Heights Baptist Church steeple was a commuting landmark hovering above the Hillsborough Avenue exit since the interstate was built.
The church was razed over the summer.
But the steeple — a piece of it at least — has been given a second life.
Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe owner Melissa Deming acquired the top of the steeple, known as the spire, and had it delivered to the parking lot across the street from her restaurant at 5119 N Nebraska Ave. in Seminole Heights.
Deming then had the spire transformed into public art.
“We thought it was important to save this piece of Tampa history and keep it in the public,” Deming said. “We’re proud of how it turned out.”
Deming commissioned artist Jennifer Kosharek, who used the spire as a four-sided canvas for a black-and-white mural.
Kosharek resided in St. Petersburg for more than four decades but relocated to Alaska in late January.
“This might be my final mural” in Tampa Bay, Kosharek told the Tampa Bay Times a few days before her move.
Each side of the 43-foot, 55,000-pound spire has a different depiction of a woman with a plant growing from her head.
“This piece is about growth and change, just as the spire has taken on a different meaning as a piece of art rather than a religious symbol,” Kosharek said. “This piece is about women and the growth of women. The plant is a symbol for her ideas and her growth.”
The former church building at 801 E Hillsborough Ave. was erected in 1949 and served as home to Seminole Heights Baptist Church until early 2020.
The church sold the 3.5-acre property to Nashville-based HCA Healthcare for $6.9 million.
HCA then razed the 50,000-square-foot brick structure and is constructing a free-standing emergency room for Memorial Hospital of Tampa on that property.
Residents and preservationists asked the city to force local historic landmark designation on the church building. That could have prevented it from being demolished. But the city of Tampa’s Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Division decided the building did not meet landmark criteria.
As the wrecking ball took down the church building, Deming and HCA struck a deal to save the spire, which was the structure’s most iconic piece.
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Deming said the current mural could be permanent.
“Or it might not,” she said. “We could bring in different artists and have revolving murals. We might repurpose the spire into a different kind of sculpture down the road. The possibilities are endless.”