A small church on Chapala Street that traces its history in Santa Barbara back 137 years — at several locations — is taking on a new role under the tutelage of a local mortuary.
What began as a modest Episcopal church in the mid-1870s has since housed numerous religious orders and commercial ventures at locations throughout the downtown area.
The building initially was erected as St. Mark’s, a new congregation that had grown out of Trinity Episcopal Church.
Located on the northeast corner of Micheletorena and Anacapa streets, the congregation built this diminutive house of worship out of redwood, which was shipped from Santa Cruz sawmills and hauled with horse-drawn wagons.
The church’s tiny nave had a capacity of only 175 worshipers. Gothic imported stained-glass windows flanked the side and rear of the building, and lacy filigree, cut by local artisans, adorned the doors, eaves and ridgepole.
The oak wood pews were also hand-carved in a puritanically austere design. Laminated Gothic arches supported the nave roof, and were tied together with massive iron brace rods, which could be tightened with huge turnbuckles, thus relieving some of the weight of the steeply pitched roof.
Unfortunately, the cost for building the church depleted the parish, which soon had to sell the property to First Baptist Church, which added a 600-gallon baptistery behind the pulpit.
By 1910, the Baptists had outgrown the space and decided to sell it to the Seventh-Day Adventists, who jacked up the building, mounted it on rollers hitched to several horse teams, and hauled it to a new home at Anacapa and Anapamu streets.
Later, they would move it three blocks west, to the southwest corner of Anapamu and De la Vina streets, where it was mounted on a new foundation.
The steeple was removed to avoid utility wires on the cross-town haul, and it was never replaced, thus leaving a truncated belfry. An influential member of the Seventh-Day Adventist congregation also complained of the “dark religious light” coming through the original stained-glass windows, which were subsequently replaced with nondecorative glass that emitted more light.
“Years later, the original stained glass was found under the building, but it was shattered beyond repair,” said Kim Martinez, who currently manages the chapel for McDermott-Crockett Mortuary.
The tiny structure held firm during the 1925 earthquake, which took down many local buildings. Second in age only to the venerable Santa Barbara Mission, which was established in 1786, the building holds the title of Santa Barbara’s oldest existing Protestant church edifice.
Eventually, the Seventh-Day Adventists decided they wanted the church on a larger lot, so they mounted it onto rollers, and this time a semi truck hauled it to its current home at 2020 Chapala St, just north of Mission Street.
In 1964, the Seventh-Day Adventists moved into larger facilities, and the Central Church of Christ occupied the “jewel box,” as sentimental locals called the much-traveled house of worship.
“Frequently I hear snippets of the building’s history when locals come by,” added Martinez. “Recently a woman recounted the details of her wedding here, which took place several decades back.”
After a century of religious use, the church building was purchased bye Eileen and Donald McFarland, and used as an office for their industrial design business.
Next, the building was sold to Patricia and Richard Levee, who used it as an office for their business, California Time-Sharing (CTS), which gave coveted computer access to numerous businesses.
CTS hired architect Wayne La Brie to modify the design to accommodate offices, and contractor Solin Design was tapped to build indoor restrooms, remove the chimney and baptismal chamber, replace the roof, add west and east side entrances, air conditioning, a kitchen and low-energy lighting fixtures.
Appreciating the Victorian legacy, the buyers kept the building’s exterior architecture.
The building is now leased by McDermott-Crockett, which uses the church for funeral services.