CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The 48-year-old steeple of the former First Baptist Church in downtown Cleveland was removed Tuesday and will be preserved by Check Into Cash founder and CEO Allan Jones.
On Tuesday morning, a large crane lifted the tall fixture from the church tower and crews readied it for transportation to Jones' estate on Creek Ridge.
Dozens of people on the ground recorded the event on cameras and smartphones while a Lee University video drone hovered in the air as the crane operator gently lowered the steeple to the street below.
"I want to preserve this piece of Cleveland history," said Jones, who said he had offered to give it to the First Baptist Church, which relocated to Stuart Road in 2010.
Jones bought the old church building and donated it to Lee University in December 2012. The facility, which will serve as a music hall for the university, was named "Pangle Hall" in honor of Jones' wife, Janie, whose maiden name is Pangle.
The events of Tuesday mark a milestone, not only in the building's history but in its future.
"The removal of the steeple is one of the final steps in converting the old sanctuary into a musical performance venue, and we're glad to be reaching that point," Lee University President Paul Conn said in an announcement. "We plan to replace it with a cupola which is a better fit for our campus."
In the immediate future, the tower simply will be capped with a flat roof, said Cole Strong, director of special projects for Lee University.
In September, the university plans to open Pangle Hall for the public to get a view of the changes, he said.
Although removal of the steeple was a key step in the building's transformation from church to performance hall, a number of changes have taken place inside, university officials said.
Most of those changes, Conn has said, are to make the sanctuary more suitable for larger musical events.
However, he said, Lee University seeks to preserve as much of the structure's ambiance and integrity as possible during the renovations.
"The old First Baptist sanctuary is a classic, handsome building, and it is important to us and to the Jones family that this familiar structure not be altered unnecessarily," Conn said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.