Mt. Zion Church, a cultural cornerstone for Seattle’s black community in the Central District, is about to become a Seattle landmark.
The congregation itself dates back to 1890, and is the largest African American congregation in the state of Washington—and the oldest Black Baptist church in Seattle—but the building itself, designed by the firm Durham Anderson Freed, was constructed in 1962 at 19th and Madison.
In addition to having a distinctive exterior appearance with triangles lining the roof trim (representing the Christian concept of the Trinity and inspired by African huts), the church’s design is culturally significant, referred to in nomination documents prepared by Phyllis I. Beaumonte and Mt. Zion as “Afrocentric,” right down to the structure of the church’s sanctuary:
The Sanctuary structure, architecturally designed to facilitate a close communal bond to Africa, resembles a community comprised of three African huts. The colors present in the sanctuary are royal African colors that additionally have theological meaning. In theological terms, red represents divinity and Christ’s blood and purple signifies that we are royal children of Christ the King.
The church’s stained-glass windows were created by the only black-owned stained-glass studio in the United States at the time, and depict major figures in the history of the church’s worship, from George Lisle, the pastor of the first Black Baptist church in the U.S., to Sojourner Truth to early black Washington State settler George Washington Bush.
Other features rich in Christian symbolism include 12 ceiling beams to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. A bell tower added to the entrance in 1999 honors community leader Russell S. Gideon, and bears a geometric design that complements the roof. Another exterior addition is “Oracle,” a sculpture by prominent Central District artist James Washington, who also designed the “Fountain of Triumph” that usually stands at Midtown Center on 23rd.
The landmark designation comes amid rapid gentrification and displacement of the Central District’s black community. The neighborhood went from 73 percent black in the 1970s—a product of a legacy of redlining that forced black residents into specific neighborhoods—to less than 20 percent today.
An ordinance to create the landmark was passed by the Seattle City Council in late May; Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the ordinance on Wednesday.