SARASOTA, Fla. - A crowd gathered on Main Street in Sarasota Monday to watch crews remove a steeple that rested atop a well-known church for nearly 60 years.
Hurricane Irma damaged the steeple sitting atop First Baptist Church two years ago. Now, finally, a stronger steeple is on the way - ready to weather any Florida storm.
From the side of Main Street in Sarasota, Levoie Hipps sat in a lawn chair to watch crews remove the steeple.
Built in 1962, the steeple was once the tallest point in downtown Sarasota. For the Hipps family, it holds a deeper meaning.
"This is interesting. This is exciting for Sarasota," Hipps said. "It's always been special."
He watched with binoculars as welders worked to detach the steeple from the building.
"It's wonderful to be able to still see it but to remember also that at one time that was the biggest thing you could see from everywhere," said Melva Hipps.
As teenagers, Levoie and Melva attended the church. They later married underneath its steeple.
"I have mixed emotions about it, but it’s still good to know it’s there," said Melva.
It's been a landmark for decades.
"People actually give directions, you know, the big white church with the steeple on Main Street," said Church Administrator Don Boyd.
Two years ago, as Hurricane Irma hit, the church's steeple could only withstand so much.
"When the winds picked up, the cross broke off from the steeple," Boyd recalled.
Instead of replacing the cross, the church decided to replace the whole thing. The new steeple will go up at the end of the month. Church members hope it'll last a lifetime.
"The new one is being made out of steel structure and aluminum. It’s hurricane-tested to Florida standards," said Boyd.
For now, the church seems a little bare without its steeple. When it returns, it'll be stronger than ever and guide the way as both a physical and spiritual landmark.
"The steeple is very important. We had people calling us after it came down saying, 'I hope you’re going to put that cross back up there because it’s so important,'" said Boyd.
The old steeple - made from steel and iron - measured about 46 feet tall and weighed a lot.
While the new one is lighter and more durable, it will look just like the old one.