Historical panel reviews church building options

The oldest continuously occupied church in the state may be declared unsafe and demolished if a way can't be found to stabilize the historic building.

Members of First Presbyterian Church, at the corner of South Curry and Musser streets, are seeking some ideas from the Carson City Historic Architecture Review Commission on the best course of action for the building.

First Presbyterian was constructed in 1861 and 1864 (in two phases), which makes it the oldest continuously used church in the state. Its first major renovation took place in 1896.

"Essentially, what we're asking for from the commission is dialogue," said Carl Dahlen, public relations representative for the church.

"I've reviewed three different reports on the building and our problems are two-fold. The first is extreme fire hazard simply because it's built with a lot of wood and at a time when fire codes were not as strict as they are today. Secondly, and much more great, is the lack of stability in consideration of earthquake safety."

Dahlen said the earthquake safety problems start at the foundation. It is an unreinforced, masonry brick structure on a rubble foundation. There are blocks of sandstone put together like a wall with mortar placed between.

"Not a nice solid, concrete foundation," said Dahlen. "Then there's stacked brick on top of that, pretty high for the amount of weight they can carry.

"In the event of an earthquake of any magnitude, the walls would move out and the roof would collapse."

The congregation essentially abandoned the building several months ago and has been holding services in the Family Life Center, built in the mid-1990s.

Dahlen said the last major remodel on the original facility was in 1949, when space was added to the south and a second floor addition as well as a balcony was added to part of the building.

"We know we have an obligation to the entire community when considering the changes," said Dahlen.

"This is where we hope to get input from the commission. From a governmental standpoint, they can't support us with money (due to separation of church and state). We're hoping to hear from them in the terms of feedback as to what they would like to see and how they may be able to help us in that aspect.

"The most severe action would be to tear down and start from scratch. In one report it would cost $1.5 million just to stabilize. The last report said $4-5 million. Anything we can do to maintain historic architecture is what we're considering.

"We don't know what will come out of that, but we'd like to maintain the historic feel of the district. At this time, we're not bringing anything to them that will say, 'This is what we're going to do.' We're going to ask them specifically what we can do, and what we can realistically afford to do."

Dahlen said the church is not in the position to fund a major construction project. Plans are under way to hold on Sept. 26 "Miracle Sunday," an event the church hopes will bring enough funds to pay off the mortgage on the Family Life Center, which is about $206,000.

"We have to do that before committing to new work," said Dahlen.

"We will hold our retirement services on Sept. 9, at which time we will remove stuff from the sanctuary, salvage what we can, and remove, protect and store the pipe organ for future use. Then, take protective measures for interior and exterior of the building, like (removal of) the stained glass windows.

"The whole purpose of the meeting is to get input up front to know where we need to begin to go forward. We're not ready to just knock it down, but it is very unsafe and we recognize our need for more room for the mission of the church. We're not asking the commission to make any decisions, but open the dialogue for talk before we start taking anything down."

In other action, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, at 300 N. Division St., is asking to repair, preserve and restore the stained glass windows of the church.

What: Historic Architecture Review Commission

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: City Hall, Capitol Conference Room, 201 N. Carson St.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment