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Church on shaky ground, congregation says

by Kurt Hildebrand

Joanne Berger Jacques has been attending Carson City’s First Presbyterian Church since she was 2 years old.

Now, facing the possibility of seeing the old building torn down, or at least substantially changed, the 63-year-old Carson resident is torn.

“I love that church, this is very hard for me,” she told Carson City Historic Architectural Review commissioners on Tuesday. “It is hard for me in my heart to see this change, but in my head I realize we need to do this. I care deeply, but I don’t know what else we can do.”

Jacques told commissioners that when it came time to paint the bell tower the man told her he couldn’t lean a ladder against it because it might tip the tower over.

First Presbyterian Church congregation members sought advice from Carson City Historic Architectural Review commissioners on what to do about their historic church, which was built in 1861.

Church design committee member Brad Lynn told commissioners that it was important to the congregation to preserve the historic character of the church, but that something had to be done to make the church safe.

At present, the sanctuary is not being used because members of the congregation feel it is unsafe.

“With Friday’s earthquake, people think they made the right decision,” Lynn said.

Congregation members hope they can expand the church, which is the oldest continuously occupied church in Nevada, to the west.

The original church was built in 1864 with a foundation of rubble and brick mortared together. Another addition to the church was placed on the south side in 1896.

The addition included the bell tower, which Lynn said is one of the most dangerous portions of the building.

According to a report prepared by engineer Roger Hyytinen, the church poses a real life safety hazard.

“I see a very real danger of the south gable end wall totally collapsing, which would lead to at least a partial collapse of the roof framing,” Hyytinen reported. “The bell tower structure is in such bad shape that even a fairly moderate earthquake could bring this tower down with a possibility of loss of life since the main front exit passes directly under it.”

Hyytinen estimated the cost of restoring the church would be three to four times what it would cost for a new church.

Lynn told historic commissioners the congregation had limited resources to restore the church.

“We want to preserve the church, but there is no federal funding available, unlike the Brewery or the Mint,” he said. “We are the ones who have to pay for it.”

Historic commissioner Peter Smith told members of the congregation that he would like to see the east, south and north walls preserved if possible. The other commissioners agreed.

Commissioners will visit the church at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 10 to evaluate the structure. They will discuss the issue again at their regular Sept. 11 meeting.