With plans underway to construct a new church on Schuman Lane in 1971, members of the Petaluma Christian Church had to sell their existing facility at 417 Western Avenue.
Few if any offers were made and finally the City of Petaluma purchased the building for $22,500. Initial plans called for the demolition of the church to make way for a parking lot. At the same time, a proposal to close English Street at Western Avenue was considered. Imagine the visual impact this would have had on the neighborhood.
Neither scheme was implemented thanks to Heritage Homes and others who would not permit the razing of another historic structure so soon after the destruction of the Sorensen Funeral Home and the McNear Mansion.
On May 15, 1972, the City Council voted to save the church. In October, Heritage Homes of Petaluma included the building as part of their biennial tour with proceeds going toward the cost of a new roof. The City of Petaluma did get their parking lot when they authorized the demolition of a house and garage at 303 Post Street at a September 12, 1972 meeting. The house was rented by the Church during the 1930s and 1940s for use as a parsonage.
Over the years the Christian Church was home to the Five Corners Community Center, which later became the Five Corners Repertory Theatre, but has been closed for the past 22 years.
The structure requires substantial rehabilitation before it can be open for public use again. Many have contributed funds to the cause over the years, but more is needed. Because of the building’s historic significance, organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California State Office of Historic Preservation, and the California Preservation Foundation may be instrumental in identifying rehabilitation grants.
In the meantime, the building we’ve known since 1994 as the Polly Hannah Klaas Performing Arts Center possesses amazing stained-glass windows that would surely capture the attention of any donor with an appreciation for beauty and history – a history that began in 1910 when Berkeley architect Francis W. Reid (1863-1949) designed the church for a mere $350. Frank Lepley, a member of the church was the contractor.
Born in Ontario, but raised in the United States, Francis William Reid graduated from the University of Pacific in San Jose in 1887. Mr. Reid served as a reporter for several San Francisco Bay Area newspapers until 1890. Between 1890 and 1898, he practiced architecture and designed several residences in the South Bay – four of which are referenced in An Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area.
Reid graduated from the Pacific Theological Seminary in 1898 and served as pastor at Congregational churches at Clayton, Paso Robles, San Miguel, and Sonoma until 1905. In 1906 Reid returned to architecture and designed the United Church of Cloverdale, which like the Petaluma Christian Church is an excellent example of the Shingle style and is blessed with incredible stained-glass windows.
A number of the Petaluma Christian Church windows were manufactured at the California Art Glass Company in San Francisco.
One window located on the English Street side of the building was given in memory of Mrs. Jane Doyle by her granddaughter, Nellie Doyle – daughter of Manville and Mary Evelyn (nee Conley), Doyle. Nellie was born in Petaluma and graduated from Petaluma High School in 1885. Throughout her adult life, she was an active member of the Christian Church in Santa Rosa. The window was damaged during a wind storm in 1950. What we see today is a replacement window that was installed in 1951.
Reverend Jesse D. and Leanna Olmsted, parents of John A. Olmsted who along with his brothers owned and managed the Petaluma Argus for many years, have a window that was likely installed at the time the church was constructed.
Other names found among the windows include William Parent, grandfather of former Petaluma Mayor Arthur W. Parent; Lorenzo and Eliza Gale; Abraham Linebaugh; Andrew and Mary McPhail; Josiah H. Benson; Homer and Vera Wilson; and Mr. and Mrs. W.D. Freeman.
Do the descendants of these families know about the windows? If so, would they be inspired to assist in their preservation as well as that of the building in general? Further research will determine the answers to these questions.
Now after nearly 50 years, the City of Petaluma is transferring ownership of this important historic building to the Polly Klaas Foundation who plan to rehabilitate it for use as a community arts venue for youth. To learn more, go to the Polly Klaas Foundation website.
A version of this post first appeared in the Winter 2008 edition of the Petaluma Magazine, a publication of the Petaluma Argus Courier