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Argentine community members remember historic church

St. John the Divine perished in a fire on Tuesday
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Posted at 5:39 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 23:54:15-05

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Firefighters in Kansas City, Kansas, battled a fire Tuesday afternoon at a historic church in the Argentine community.

“This was us, this was our church,” said life-long Argentine community member Mary Ann Franco.

Around 5:30 p.m., video showed crews battling the fire at the vacant church at 2511 Metropolitan Ave.

While it might have sat empty for the past 28 years, residents like Franco and Iliana Navarro said its presence still gave them comfort and stood for cultural significance.

“My mother, my father celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary here,” Franco said. “We all went to St. John the Divine school from kindergarten all the way to eighth grade, and we went every single day to church. And we would have all kinds of things; fiestas and parties and sliding boards that all the kids would fight over because there was only one.”

Some in the Argentine community said this was the last building that represented Hispanic culture in the area. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

“This was it, I mean we had fun we had Mexican fiestas, we had musicians, food, bingo, anything,” Franco said. “It was just home. It was home to all of us. Argentine has changed, yes, because of all these homes, but, you know, we have great memories.”

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The church was built in 1887 and underwent a remodel in 1909. The Catholic diocese purchased the structure in 1937 and became part of the Argentine neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas.

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"The church possesses a sense of feeling and association with this historical community and period that are distinctive and unique," according to the church's file with the National Register of Historic Places. "St. John the Divine thus serves as an important reminder of the history of the settlement, growth and assimilation of the Mexican-American population in Kansas City, Kansas."

In its place some hope a new church will be built off the sentimental value and memories of St. John the Divine.

“I think we all need to get together again and build a church here,” Franco said. “It’s not going to have the same memories as we had in the past, but at least it will be built on a memory where we did have our church before, and maybe with that new church it would bring something... it would bring Argentine alive again.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was investigating alongside local law enforcement at the site, which had stood vacant since 1992.