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Presbyterian church project to create ‘bridge’ from past to present

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

The new First Presbyterian Church was the topic of a special Historic Resources Commission meeting held Wednesday.

With the new structure, the idea is to “create a bridge” between the Family Living Center and the historic church, said Fred Dolven, the project’s architect.

It also allowed for some different design ideas once “it became apparent we weren’t trying to replicate all existing details of the existing church,” he said.

This could include echoing the old structure and newer ones, such as the Family Life Center, where the parishioners have been attending services since 2001 when church officials decided to stop using the old church because they thought it too structurally precarious.

Originally, officials at First Presbyterian had sought to tear down the historic church, which was built in 1864 and had sections added on in the 1890s and late 1940s. In its place was to be a design similar to the old one.

“I like it,” said Commissioner Robert Darney, of the initial concepts for the new sanctuary.

“It seems to be a good compromise,” said Commissioner Lou Ann Speulda.

Dolven had only a couple of weeks to come up with ideas for the new sanctuary in its new location. It will seat up to 400 worshippers, or 350 “comfortably,” Dolven said.

Paul Ferrari, of Ferrari Shields and Associates, a structural and civil engineer in Reno, and Peter Wilday, a Reno architect, were invited by the city to come up with some ideas that Dolven, Hyytinen Engineering and Shaheen-Beauchamp Builders could incorporate into their work for the project – which has changed dramatically since the decision was made to try and preserve part of the old building and create a new place for parishioners to worship.

The 1940s-era section of the old structure, at 110 N. Nevada St., is being destroyed to allow for construction of a new church sanctuary on Division Street while Carson City seeks money to rehabilitate the old church.

The historic structure was constructed in 1864 with financial help from Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. His brother, Orion Clemens, was a Presbyterian. Proceeds from Twain’s first paid speech, $200, were used to complete the church’s roof because the congregation couldn’t afford to finish the work, according to Nevada state Archivist Guy Rocha.

First Presbyterian’s original section is the oldest church structure in Nevada. Other buildings tied to Twain are Orion Clemens’ house, the Stewart-Nye house, both also in Carson City, and the Theodore Winters Ranch in Washoe Valley, Rocha said.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church, both of which are situated near First Presbyterian and built during the same decade, will be facing similar structural concerns. The churches are an integral part of the city’s historic district and within the city’s redevelopment district.

The next commission meeting focusing on the church, scheduled April 13, will be rescheduled because of conflicts. This is when discussion will highlight efforts to partially preserve the old church structure, such as how to best go about seismic upgrades, and how the fundraising effort is shaping up.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.