Tribute to a 100 year Witness This history belongs first, and primarily, to St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church of Chico, builders of the historic church at the corner of 3rd & Salem Streets. It is the history of a building, not only of one congregation, nor even of entirely religious use. It is not even about a single street address. The building, which has just turned 100 years old is not very old, in terms of other lands and more ancient people; but it is older than most structures in this part of the world. What sets it apart from the other buildings in the city of Chico? Let us take a moment to recall the history of a 100 year Witness.
An Overview Originally constructed at 5th and Broadway in downtown Chico, at the site of the current post office, this beautiful church by architect Arthur B. Benton, has been described as one of the most distinguished 19th century churches in northern California. Built of wood, with brick facing and shingle siding, it gives the effect of a small 13th century English country parish church. The history of this building tells a tale of the faithfulness of a people following in the traditions of the Anglican Church in America.
The Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins, rector of St. John the Evangelist, who arrived on March 31, 1901, began an active campaign to build a church on the site. The first building committee reads like a page from Chico's history: Judge L. G. Faulkner, T. N. Crew, John Daly, Henry Eames, A. L. Nichols, J. H. Sawtele, Dr. Oscar Stansbury, Charles Stilson, and John G. Wannop. After looking at plans for a stone church-but finding that option much too expensive-the current wood-framed design was chosen and a contract drawn for its construction at a cost of $5,200. Ground was broken on February 1, 1904, and the building was completed in that year. The church's first service was on The Feast of the Circumcision, New Year's Day, 1905. The building was moved to its present site at 3rd & Salem in 1912.
Registered as a historical building by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1981, it joins the Bidwell Mansion, Stansbury House, Gage Home and the California State University Romanesque revival buildings in the preservation of Chico's architectural heritage.
In 1982, the building was sold to local restaurant owners, Bill and Amy Pang, who remodeled the building to create the Dynasty/Shell Cove complex, including Fuji Sushi and a boutique. The venture cost them around $2 million and was ultimately a failure. The bankrupt facility closed in 1991.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church bought and restored the historic structure to its original use. Having bought the building out of foreclosure in 1994, St. Augustine's has spent ten years, and almost $1 million, to give Chico back one of its favorite downtown church buildings. Today we celebrate together its hundredth birthday.
St. John the Evangelist Parish (From its inception to 1982) Near the end of the Great California Gold Rush, northern California grew small cities capable of establishing stable churches. The City of Chico was established in this period by General John and Mrs. Annie Bidwell. Another illustrious Chico couple, Dr. Oscar and Mrs. Libbie Manlove Stansbury, made great efforts to establish an Episcopal church here. Libbie came from Maryland as a newlywed in 1877. As her husband first walked her around the town, she inquired if there might be an Episcopal Church. When he answered No her reply was, "Land sakes alive! That's incredible. Do you know I've been here only three days and already I've found my first project." As a devout Episcopalian, Libbie felt that Chico could not claim to be "civilized" until an Episcopal Church was established. Stansbury's House, now a historical museum, still stands at 5th and Salem. It became headquarters for visiting clergy working on the Episcopal Mission. Chico then had a population of about 3,300.
In April of 1896, the Rev. Arthur George arrived in Chico and held services at the Masonic Hall on First and Broadway, above what is now Colliers Hardware. Because of the large attendance at that service and the interest it generated, St. John's Episcopal Mission was born. Gilbert H. Taylor became its first church warden. He was manager of the Chico gas plant and active in horticultural experimentation, concentrating on almonds and prunes. C. Faulkner was made treasurer and Judge L.G. Faulkner secretary. On Dec. 11, 1896, a Ladies Guild was organized with Mrs. Oscar "Libbie" Stansbury its first president.
Fr. George came from Sacramento to hold services at the Knights of Pythias Hall in 1898 and at the Masonic Hall in 1899. A Sunday School was organized and Miss Emma Wilson, an area educator, became its first superintendent. In 1899, land for the future church building was purchased at 5th and Broadway at the price of $1,700. The site was ideal because of its location across from the town square.
It is our understanding that Annie Bidwell, a fervent Christian and member of the Women's Temperance Movement, gave prime pieces of property to new church groups seeking to build. But when it came to the Episcopalians, Annie objected to their use of real wine at Holy Communion and refused to give them land. St. John's had to buy its own property. No hard feelings, Annie. And we still use real wine.
The Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins became Chico's first resident Episcopal priest on March 31, 1901, continuing to hold services at the Masonic Hall. During his ministry, the building of a Church became a reality. Fr. Wilkins appealed to contributors in the East, and $1,300 was raised. The St. John's Ladies Guild raised a similar amount.
The Mission borrowed $2,500 from the diocese. A building committee was formed: Gilbert H. Taylor, Judge L.G. Faulkner, Thomas N. Crew, Dr. D.L. Wasley, Dr. Oscar Stansbury, John Daly, Henry Eames, Charles Stilson, J.R. Sawtele, A.L. Nichols and John G. Wannop, all Chico names of renown. They asked well-known Los Angeles church architect, Arthur B. Benton, to draw plans for the proposed church. He designed a Gothic Revival church, resembling those found in 13th century English countryside settings. Originally designed in stone, the building brought in bids that ranged from $14,000 to $20,000, which dismayed the committee. C.H. Brown, an architect and builder, offered a brick and wood alternative, estimating a cost of $5,200 to build it. His proposal was accepted, and the plans were carefully redesigned to accommodate a wood structure with brick and shingle exterior.
Ground was broken for the church on Feb. 1, 1904, and the cornerstone was laid (with additional Masonic rites) on April 9, 1904. The church was made ready for use on January 1, 1905. With no money left for furniture, the Ladies Guild again solicited funds. Arrangements were made to manufacture the required pieces in Eau Claire, WI. The stained glass windows were designed and made by Los Angeles master artist, J.E. McCoy, who had early connections with the Tiffany Glass Co. of New York.
Time Capsule In 1995, a pair of copper boxes were discovered encased in the brick foundations of the church. In the first box, dated 1904, the following history of the parish was written by hand. The second box, dated 1912, at the moving of the building to 3rd & Salem, held some other features.
St. John's History. A short account of the starting of St. John's Episcopal Mission in the town of Chico taken for the most part from the Church Register by Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins, Priest-in-charge at time of laying Corner Stone. 9th April 1904. The Right Rev. H. D. Wingfield, Bishop of Northern California, visited Chico in the early days of his Episcopate. He held services & aroused much interest at the time. It was not that a mission couldn't be organized & that the building now in possession of the Baptist body couldn't be acquired. But the Bishop received some private & personal discouragement & allowed the interest to die out. Later on he sent several clergymen to see if anything could be done for the Church in Chico but an organization could not be effected. Upon his urgent request & with the somewhat reluctant consent of Bp. Wingfield, early in 1896, the Rev. A. E. George entered the field & it is owing to the efforts of this good and devoted priest with God's blessing on that that the Episcopal Church then gained a foot-hold in this town so long previously rejected of the Church & given over to sectarianism. After much correspondence Mr. George visited the city on the Festival of St. Mark, 1896 & held services on the following day, April 26th, in the Masonic Hall. Large congregations attended & so much interest was drawn out that on May 1st, (Festival of St. Philip & St. James) a meeting was held in the Masonic Hall & a Mission was organized to be known as St. John's Episcopal Mission. W. G. Taylor was elected Warden, W. C. Faulkner was appointed Treasurer, & W. L. G. Faulkner Secretary. Later on 11th Dec 1996 [sic] a Womans Guild was formed. Mrs. O. Stansbury begin first President. Services were held on June 7th & Holy Communion administered. In Oct 1896 monthly services were started in Knights of Pythias Hall with large congregations. Bishop Graves who was put in temporary charge during the vacancy caused by the death of Bp Wingfield visited the Mission on Feb 14, 1897 & made three other visitations during the time he was in charge of the jurisdiction. Bishop Nichols, of the Diocese of Califa, held services on 14th March 1897, & in the evening confirmed a class of 31. In 1898 the Mission removed its headquarters from Knights of Pythias to Masonic Hall which turned out unfortunate for the Mission as we lost the "transient attendants." About this time a Sunday School was organized. In 1899 the site for the Church was bought for $1700-00/100 which turned out a very timely and fortunate investment as shortly after owing to the location in the town of various manufacturing enterprises real estate in Chico went up in leaps & bounds & now at this time the lot is valued at $8000 at which rate we never could have secured it. This property was vested in Bp Moreland, the present incumbent of the jurisdiction. On Oct 14, 1900 the Rev. A. E. George brought his 4 1/2 year charge to a close. The Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins, the present Priest-in-charge removed from Maryville, Diocese of West Missouri to Chico & preached his first sermon in Masonic Hall on Palm Sunday 31st March 1901 & it is largely owing to his earnest & persistent backed by the generous response to his appeal by church men and church women in the state that we are enabled to ... to build the Church of which we lay the Corner Stone today 9th April 1904.
First Missionary, Rev. A. George, an Englishman from 26th April 1896 to 14th Oct 1901. Second Missionary, Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins, Canadian of the Diocese of Nova Scotia, graduate of Kings College Windsor, Province of Nova Scotia from 31st March 1901 to present date 9th April 1904 W. Thos. N. Crew, and Englishman long connected with the Presbyterian body & greatly respected within the Mission & was licensed as Lay Reader June 1899, & carries on the services regularly during the absence of L.M. Wilkins once each month to Grace Church Wheatland of which he also has charge.
The Official List of Communicants of St. Johns Mission at time of Laying Corner Stone 9th April 1904 1. Mr. Wm Hendricks 2. Mr. O. Stansbury 3. Dr. Wasley 4. Mrs. Wasley 5. Mrs. Geo. H. Taylor 6. Mr. G. H. Taylor 7. Cary Taylor 8. Eana Johnston 9. Mr. Wilkins 10. Mr. C. Faulkner 11. Mr. Warren 12. Mr. Chas Stilson 13. Mr. Jas Hegan 14. Mr. C B Swain 15. Mr. A. L. Nichols 16. Caro Nichols 17. May Nichols 18. Winona Hendricks 19. Thos N. Crew 20. Mr. G W Graves 21. Lois Stilson 22. Mr. De Haren
The building they raised there received favorable mention in a book entitled: A Guide to Architecture in San Francisco & Northern California (1973, Peregrine Smith Publication, Santa Barbara):
"Episcopal Church c. 1885 [sic]; NW cor. 3rd & Salem Sts. Almost invariably the most distinguished nineteenth-century church in northern California town is the Episcopal. This brick and shingle Gothic Revival structure with Eastlake details follows the rule. Notice the graceful apse. " [apse pictured above] The first service in the new church was conducted by Fr. Wilkins on January 1, 1905. A stained glass window in honor of Fr. Wilkins is found in the baptismal apse (pictured at right). On July 10, 1906, Fr. Wilkins left for Cullen, NY.
A 1907 issue of The Sacramento Missionary noted attendance at St. John's increasing, a rectory being planned, and a new cement sidewalk completed in front of the church. If you have wondered how a church could function in Chico's intense summers without air conditioning, St. John's was generally closed during July and August due to heat. But the church windows also opened for fresh air, and there was a ridge vent the length of the building that was later covered during re-roofing.
In May of 1910, St. John's became an official parish, no longer a mission. Bylaws were adopted and the first vestry was: Gilbert Taylor, J.O. Wood, Dr. 0. Stansbury, F.G. Nottelman, Humphrey Dough and John Daly. They incorporated under the name of The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Chico, CA.
New Post Office Moves the Building to 3rd & Salem (1912) In 1910, the U.S. Government sought a location for a Post Office in Chico. An offer was made to buy the church property on 5th and Broadway and the vestry agreed to sell for $25,000. In 1911, the U.S. Government accepted the site for the new Post Office.
Now St. John's had to be moved! In 1912, St. John's paid Mrs. Isaac Burk $11,500 for her property at 3rd and Salem. A house was moved to another part of the property, to serve as a rectory. Moving and reconstruction was done by Morrill and Clark of Sacramento for $8,340 and the building was enlarged. (South transept extended one bay.) At the end of November, 1912, a new commemorative stone was laid at 3rd and Salem for the rebuilding of the church.
On May 14, 1944, Bishop Noel Porter consecrated St. John's at a special ceremony. This celebrated the completion of a restoration project begun the year before and the burning of the mortgage, which left St. John's finally debt free.
In October of 1947, plans were made for a new parish hall and rectory next to the church. The church needed to raise $30,000 for the proposed project. Today's basement parish hall is a renovation of the former hall built at that time.
Two Churches In 1959, the creation of a mission of St. John's in the growing northern part of Chico began to be considered. Four acres on Ceres Avenue were purchased. In March, 1961, St. David's Episcopal Church was chosen as the name for a new Mission. In 1961, Fr. Gebhart commissioned 68 St. John's members to establish St. David's. Another 6-1/2 acres were purchased on Floral Avenue. Ground was broken for the new church on July 28, 1963.
The Two become One Placing 3rd & Salem at Risk At a vestry meeting in 1970, Bishop Clarence Haden suggested St. John's and St. David's merge to relieve financial stress on the two churches. On Oct. 28, 1970, the two churches approved a merger. In 1972, a Fire Marshall's report listed 17 specific Uniform Building Code violations at 3rd & Salem that needed to be corrected. Most members thought the Salem Street property should be sold and a new church built at Floral, but many others were in favor of closing Floral and rebuilding at Salem to serve a larger congregation. The Master Plan Committee recommended to build a new church at Floral, and to retain the Salem complex for multipurpose uses.
A petition expressing concern for the future status of the Salem Street church came in. Some felt the downtown church should be kept open and in good repair: that it would be a loss to all if it was sold. Some considered moving the existing structure to Floral Avenue, but the cost and potential damage to the building made that idea untenable. The Rev. Gary K. Sturni became rector on Dec. 4, 1974. A remodel of the Salem Street sanctuary was finished in 1975. In 1976, St. John's vestry determined to unite the parishes. On Jan. 9, 1980, the vestry recommended to consolidate in one location and to locate at Floral Ave. in 2 to 5 years.
St. John's Moves to Floral Avenue (1982) A letter came to the church citing the historic uniqueness and age of the Salem church. An application was made to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior to have the Salem church listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If accepted, the church would qualify for preservation and restoration grants.
In May 1981, the church was accepted on the National Historical Register of Historic Buildings. The nomination was secured through the tireless efforts of Dorothy Hill, a representative of the vestry. The official registration date was January 21, 1982. A plaque stating this has been placed at the southeast corner of the building.
At its meeting of March 10, 1982, St. John's vestry determined to sell the 3rd & Salem property. Plans to sell were completed and on November 20, 1982, an offer to purchase the property by William and Amy Pang was accepted by St. John's. The Pangs planned to convert the property into a Chinese restaurant and nightclub complex, following the guidelines for preservation of the church's exterior.
The church was deconsecrated by Bishop John Thompson on November 30, 1982, a ceremony that offered some unhappy church members the one opportunity of their lives to walk a picket line in protest. The proposed restaurant and nightclub complex caused so much controversy that the closing of escrow was delayed until January 21, 1984.
The Dynasty and "Union Square" (1982-1994) Bill and Amy Pang, owners of a successful Trader Pang's restaurant at the Almond Orchard Shopping Center, over-extended themselves into a huge debt to realize their dream of creating what they called "Union Square." This included The Dynasty, a five-star Chinese restaurant in the former sanctuary, with food worthy of a San Francisco restaurant; Shell Cove, a Polynesian bar and grill in the basement; and a newly built wing housing Fuji Sushi and a boutique. The sushi bar failed, and it was later joined to the boutique to create yet another bar, The Beachcomber. An office was built on the northwest end of the building to house Campus Travel Service for the next 12 years.
The Dynasty failed after a few years in business. Only Shell Cove made money, but the Pangs were deep in debt that could not be overcome. In the summer of 1991, the Bank of the Orient foreclosed on the Pang's mortgage and closed the restaurant. The building remained closed and for sale for three years.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church (1994-present) In 1980, a small group of Episcopalians, displaced by events in their denomination establishing women's priesthood and a revised Book of Common Prayer, began meeting as St. Augustine of Canterbury Church. They first met at a private home, and later at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Hooker Oak Avenue. Next, the group bought a small church building at 8th & Spruce Avenues and developed a small congregation of conservative Anglicans. The Rev. Boardman C. Reed, a retired Episcopal priest living above Oroville in Brownsville, was the group's first priest and rector, but could only serve the congregation once or twice a month. Soon Fr. Reed was called to begin another similar church in Redding.
Following a series of rectors, St. Augustine's called the Rev. Peter F. Hansen as its rector in 1991. After two years and much prayer, Fr. Hansen announced to the church his belief that God wanted them to purchase and restore the old church at 3rd & Salem. He and his wife, Giti, had a strong sense of God's commissioning their church to restore the sanctuary to its original use. The congregation joined the enterprise with a sense of destiny.
The Bank of the Orient had wanted as much as $1.5 million to sell the existing restaurant complex, but soon reduced its expectations to a listing price of $950,000. After a fruitless year it re-listed at $850,000, and a year later for $695,000. St. Augustine's began negotiating prices, but was out-bid by the Associated Students Union of Chico State, who bought the building for $520,000. The purchase was contingent, however, on passing the university seismic code. Fr. Hansen (having a bachelor of architecture degree from U.C. Berkeley, 1972), knew this could never happen, as the 90-year-old structure would never be brought up to the stringent state standards. He then announced to the Enterprise-Record the church's intention to buy the historic church to restore it to its original use.
When the ASU gave up their escrow, St. Augustine's held a parish meeting to consider a purchase price. Having heard the Bank would probably accept $500,000, a suggestion to offer $475,000 met with approval. An initial offer of $450,000 was suggested with a six-month escrow period in order to shore up financial support. The church owned its small building at 8th & Spruce and had about $90,000 in savings, but was still quite small in membership, having about 35 people in attendance on Sundays. It would take a true miracle to make it happen.
Miracles still happen. The bank accepted $450,000 in June of 1994, and gave the church until September 22 to close escrow. "Save the Church" bumper stickers and window signs were seen all over town. An appeal for Chico townspeople to help save this historic building was greeted with wide support and many pledges received, with the sale of its 8th & Spruce building to The Little Flower (St. Theresa's) Catholic Church, to bring the financial strength up to $400,000 by September.
Fr. Hansen feared to lose the deal if the full amount could not be achieved in time. He had papers drawn up for a $100,000 loan from the sellers in order to have additional money for the renovations. On September 22, the building became St. Augustine's and immediately demolition began. Sales of artifacts, restaurant equipment, and building tours brought in needed money. A removal of the church's interior plaster became necessary and with it a number of dry-rot repairs. The entire window wall at the south transept was rebuilt. Also, a bow in the west (altar) wall was discovered, threatening to drop the wall into a parking lot behind the church. This was restored with steel members added. Floors were restored to their original douglas fir planking.
The old sanctuary was restored to Anglican worship, as it had been built to house. The original stained-glass windows were opened to light once more, with some repairs and additional pieces added by Vince Starwick, a local craftsman in glass. Pulpit, altar dais and all the elements of a traditional church were built in. A cross was re-erected on the steeple closely resembling the original St. John's steeple cross. The old tower entrance was reopened and walnut doors built. Now, once more a holy place of worship, St. Augustine's speaks of the Presence of God as a physical expression of faith, built out of plaster, wood, sweat and generously given funds.
An 1878 English T. C. Lewis tracker pipe organ, valued at over $100,000, was restored and installed in the sanctuary. The organ had been donated by Dr. Richard Morgan nine years earlier and kept in storage toward the day the church might have a building suitable for it. Downstairs spaces have been renovated into the Christian Education Center. The street level addition, formerly built by the Pangs as Fuji Sushi/The Beachcomber, will soon become a student-oriented coffee house "Augie's Fine Coffee & Tea:" a place for students and townspeople to gather and enjoy coffee, tea, music and good things together. The coffee house, a commercial enterprise, is entirely owned by St. Augustine's, but will serve the community, its profits used to promote many non-profit service groups in the city.
All in all, the complex has once again become a multiple-use religiously-oriented sanctuary and a living part of downtown Chico. The building itself bespeaks the elegance of the worship. God is certainly pleased. The congregation, in its re-opening of the sanctuary on February 19, 1995, chose as its theme: "Non nobis, Domine", "Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy Name be the glory." Psalm 115
In its first ten years as St. Augustine's, the building has opened its doors to other groups, especially campus organizations such as the Campus Crusade for Christ, Catacombs (Southern Baptist), Women's Resource Clinic board of directors, ChicoLife's LifeLight prayer vigils, and other city-wide events. Since the whole city supported the renovation of 3rd & Salem, St. Augustine's feels this building belongs to God for the sake of the entire city, not just for one parish church.
St. Augustine's, after its first two phases of renovations finishing out the church sanctuary, sacristy and offices, determined to stop all further renovation until it could pay off all debts and continue building only on a cash basis. A drive to retire the debt succeeded in paying off all loans in 2001, and a new consecration of the building was held on November 25, 2001, by Archbishop Robert Sherwood Morse of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. The church is still without debt and has renovated its parish hall downstairs. St. Augustine's stands poised to build and open Augie's Fine Coffee & Tea, hopefully by the summer of 2005.
The history of a 100-year-old building can be much like the story of any person's life: full of hope, first love, great expectations, and also set-backs, break-downs, and disillusionments. But the difference in the life of this building, as in the lives of those who have worshipped here, is the God who inhabits both and has saved both for something better.
Rectors of St. John's Parish 1896-1900 The Rev. Arthur George 1901-1906 The Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins 1906-1909 The Rev. Carl A. F. Ruge 1910-1925 The Rev. Ernest A. Osborn 1925-1935 The Rev. Paul Little, Ph.D. 1935-1942 The Rev. Robert R. Read 1943-1945 The Rev. Maurice O'Moore 1945-1957 The Rev. J. Raymond Lemert 1957-1961 The Rev. Lloyd F. Gebhart 1961-1966 The Rev. Robert C. Gould 1967-1970 The Rev. Albert Olson 1970-1974 The Rev. W. Hamilton Aulenbach 1974-1985 The Rev. Gary K. Sturni 1985-1997 The Rev. Harry R. Allagree 1997-present
The Rev. Richard Yale
Owners of Union Square Bill and Amy Pang Bank of the Orient,
San Francisco, mortgagers
Rectors of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish: 1980-1987 The Rev. Boardman C. Reed 1987-1989 The Rev. Glenn P. Bock (R.I.P.) 1990-1991 The Rev. Earl Warren Angell 1991-present The Rev. Peter F. Hansen