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Prayer Bones: Exploring a collapsing Gothic revival church with Club Sinister

Club Sinister. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Westminster Congregational Church was constructed in 1904 at the corner of 36th and Walnut Street in Kansas City, Missouri. I admired the building as I walked by on some of my daily COVID lockdown strolls that I took last spring and summer to avoid losing my mind from sitting in my apartment all day. Its gothic revival architecture made it look a bit like a castle. That’s part of why Walt Disney took a liking to it. Long before the structure became home to a custom furniture store and workshop (2016), the infamous animator’s family moved to Kansas City and began attending church there (1910).

In February of this year, a structural collapse occurred in the building and it was deemed unsafe to inhabit and slated for demolition, despite its spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Apparently, Sam Unruh, the furniture shop’s owner, had put over $100,000 into repairing the building over the years, but no parties had enough money to make the building habitable again. That’s why in March, just before the demolition process began, I called up the members of Club Sinister to do a photo shoot.


Club Sinister. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.

Alex Horton and Ian Weidner, longtime friends and collaborators, moved to Kansas City from Oklahoma a few years back. Their first release as Club Sinister, a self-titled EP, came out in January of this year and features six tracks of sonorous gothic dream pop. Their first photo shoot as a duo was in a graveyard, so a crumbling 100 year-old church seemed like a logical next step.

An hour or two before sunset, we took some photos outside the building and made sure there wasn’t anyone looking after the place. After shooting a few pictures of them on the street corner and a fire escape connected to the building, we slipped through a small gap between the fence surrounding the building and made our way inside. Immediately, we were in awe of the wreckage that lay in front of us.


Club Sinister. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.

A large portion of the building’s roof in the main chapel area had caved in, leaving giant piles of splintered wood covering much of that area’s floor. One of the rooms adjacent to the chapel had a gaping hole in the floor leading down to a dark basement area. There wasn’t any sort of ladder down there and it was a long drop, so we just chuckled as we cautiously peered down with our flashlights shining down.

We all agreed that a view from the chapel’s balcony would probably be great, so Horton and Weidner graciously allowed me to walk up the stairs first, in case they should cave in -- who would miss a journalist? Luckily, I made it to the top and the boys followed me up. Some of my favorite shots from the day came from up there. I took some of them standing at the edge of the balcony with the chapel beneath them. Then I sent them back down to be photographed down below in the chapel while I stood alone on the balcony.

Club Sinister. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.

Funny enough, as I read about Disney’s connection to the church after our visit, a relative was quoted in an article saying how much Walt loved to sit in the balcony.

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[This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Shuttlecock's free monthly print edition. Click here to read more about the issue and find your copy.]    

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