The San Diego Naval Training Center’s Last Battle: the Preservation of North Chapel

by on April 6, 2018 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Is this the last battle of San Diego’s nearly-century old Naval Training Center – the fight to preserve North Chapel?

That’s what is apparently going on over at the former military site on the edge of Point Loma. In a nutshell, Corky McMillin Company wants to turn the historic NTC North Chapel – built in 1942 – into a “restaurant space” – it already advertises it as such – and this is meeting some fairly stiff resistance from the community.

And that resistance is being led by the congregations that use the sanctuary and by historical and architectural experts. There is an online petition to preserve the chapel.  As of this writing, 1270 people have signed it, which was put up by Arlene Paraiso, the coordinator of one of the congregations that hold Sunday services at the chapel. The congregations, Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Bosco Mission, both received basically eviction notices last fall that they’d all have to be out by June 30, 2018.

McMillin Liberty Station promotion of North Chapel as a “retail restaurant”.

Here is what the Petition for preservation states:

About the North Chapel

Generations of of Navy Sailors used this chapel for worship, regardless of their denomination. Since then, memorable weddings, religious ceremonies and even funerals have been performed at the North Chapel. It is one of the last buildings still used for it’s original purpose. To this day there are still two religious congregations that use the chapel for their weekly Sunday and other holy day services.

Historic buildings like this should be protected. Please sign the petition to support the preservation of the historic North Chapel as a rentable chapel for all faiths, as it was meant to be, and not have it turned into just another ordinary space for events or a restaurant.

This is a one-of-a-kind historic chapel and there isn’t another one like it in all of San Diego. There is a magnificent pipe organ, baby grand piano and choir loft. It is an elegantly beautiful chapel with exposed wooden beams and stained glass windows .

What Will Happen

If McMillin has their way, after June 30, 2018 no one will be able to rent the chapel again for a wedding or any other event because they plan to turn it into a retail restaurant. This will desecrate a sacred space and leave at least two religious congregations who rent it, churchless. (https://libertystation.com/go/north-chapel)

What Happened Before:

McMillan was given the Liberty Station Naval Training Center back in 2000 and was supposed to preserve, not destroy the buildings that San Diego gave to them; while sharing the profits.

Liberty Station is noticeably successful today and many believe that they have already made their money back and are wondering why they are moving forward with attempting to turn the North Chapel into another retail/restaurant/entertainment center.

There are still buildings left to renovate and open spaces that can be built upon and the North Chapel doesn’t have to be one of them.

McMillin cited ‘underuse’ in an official statement to the press. This is the the same reason they used when they demolished the ‘South Chapel’ in 2010.

Locals complain that McMilliin had charged exorbitant prices for Chapel usages and that is why it might be underutilized during the week. (Sometimes upwards of $3,000 per use according to the KPBS article. ). Locals believe that the chapel should be available to the community for little to not cost; as a goodwill gesture. See article here from 2010 by KPBS: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/sep/17/developer-bre…

What Is Happening Today:

McMillin wants to change the North Chapel into a retail restaurant, again citing the same reason, ‘underuse’. Today couples are being charged $1,000 for 3 hours chapel use. Many couples are young and cannot afford that amount. That could contribute to underuse, but it is difficult to deny that the North Chapel is a popular location for people seeking a wedding venue.

Back in early March, Marty Graham at the San Diego Reader wrote a piece encapsulating the essentials of NTC’s last battle. He quoted from a letter sent to Mayor Faulconer by the architect of record for the restoration of the Naval Training Center, Milford Wayne Donaldson in which Donaldson urged Faulconer and the city to join in NTC’s last battle (my words) and oppose any changes to North Chapel:

“The North Chapel is one of those unique buildings, constructed immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to honor those men and women of the U.S. Navy. Although Liberty Station contains many old barracks buildings, now used for retail of which I participated and proud of the results, the uses of both the North Chapel as well as the Command Center (Building 200) are unique public spaces and their historical uses are an important public policy consideration.”

Apparently when Graham the Reader writer contacted McMillin Company and its commercial realtor, they declined to answer any questions relating to any restaurant-type changes in their plans, but did release a statement:

“Currently, the North Chapel building is significantly underutilized throughout the week. We are seeking a solution, and we’re open to the possibilities of exploring the Chapel as a multi-purpose facility. The building is a historic property, and any future use will comply with adopted guidelines to protect this resource.”

Graham adds:

The city handed over 361 acres of the 504-acre former training center to the McMillin Company in 2000. According to KPBS, McMillin paid nothing but promised to split profits with the city and make a new community out of the NTC. …

The South Chapel was demolished in 2010, Paraiso says, using the explanation that it was under-utilized. That same explanation is being offered as justification to convert the North Chapel to a restaurant space with the restored stained-glass windows left in place, along with as many other historic features as possible.

Paraiso says that it can cost between $1000 and $3000 to have an event at the chapel — costs she says are too high, for example, for many military couples who want to marry there. Paraiso believes that McMillin agreed to let people use the space for a nominal fee.

Graham also cites a 2010 KPBS interview about the status of Liberty Station with John Warren, the Editor/Publisher of the San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, who was very critical of the original deal between the city and McMillin. Here’s Warren:

Now when I look at this project [Liberty Station] here, I call it the audacity of greed in terms of what they’ve done here. … But, nevertheless, the City entered into another one of its bad deals and didn’t ask for any share from the sale of the houses, and what we have now is McMillin probably expected to make about $78 million and made over perhaps $300 million in terms of the homes being sold during the time that the subprime scenario was taking off. …  So now here [the city is] looking at owing [McMillin] $14 million to help with the maintenance and upkeep of a place…

At the time – nearly twenty years ago – the City Council awarded the former Naval Training Station land in Point Loma to the Corky McMillin Companies. By any standards, it was a sweet deal. Some, however, called it the greatest public land give-away in modern San Diego history. McMillin paid nothing but promised to split profits with the city and make a new community out of NTC – Liberty Station

That community, though, is having troubles. The Voice of San Diego reported that high rents are driving artists out of the more than 20 acres set aside for the arts and cultural district.

Despite all this, we have the marker that McMillin installed to commemorate the North Chapel history:

“Completed in 1942, The North Chapel Building featured leaded glass windows representing the 41 different training schools on site and one window representing the recruit. As the recruits at the Naval Training Center practiced many different religions, different services for all religions were offered. There was a Priest, a Rabbi, a Baptist Minister and so on that would conduct the services. Weddings for senior officers were held in the chapel as well. The Corky McMillin Companies is proud to preserve the history of NTC” 

That last line could give the folks battling to save the chapel some hope. They do hope:

Our hope is that the designation of the building as a Historic Place and the past agreement with the City will come to light and allow us to preserve this chapel as a chapel; as it was meant to be.

In this probable last battle of NTC, those fighting the big guy also believe, “Liberty Station has enough restaurants, even still some empty buildings and plenty of land to create more restaurants on. The chapel doesn’t have to be the place.”

They urge everyone to sign their Petition.

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris April 6, 2018 at 6:14 pm

Signed.

Reply

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie April 6, 2018 at 9:28 pm

I’m an atheist and I signed it; this is not about religion, it’s about preserving an historic building; it’s about the little guy and gal fighting the giant, McMillin Co.

Reply

Amber April 7, 2018 at 4:00 pm

I’m an atheist too Frank and I’m with you on this. Petition signed!

Reply

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie April 8, 2018 at 11:17 am

1,314 people have now signed the Petition to save the North Chapel. Have you signed it? It’s not about religion — it’s about preserving some of the community’s history.

Reply

kriz April 9, 2018 at 9:05 am

teat please ignore

Reply

Phil Lawrence April 9, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Is it going to be demolished or just repurposed? I like the building, but I’ve only been in it once (for a wedding). If the building itself is being preserved, I respect your position, but personally don’t problem with it being used for something other than a place of worship.

Reply

Geoff Page April 13, 2018 at 10:13 am

Atheist here too, but I’m signing.

Reply

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