Reverent rebuilding

Patrick Weymouth works on the replacing the wood trim on the

Gilroy
– Resting in the foothills of the Gavilan College campus is the
San Felipe Community Church, a once bustling chapel originally
located in Hollister, now almost forgotten except by the spiders in
the windows who serve as its guardians.
Gilroy – Resting in the foothills of the Gavilan College campus is the San Felipe Community Church, a once bustling chapel originally located in Hollister, now almost forgotten except by the spiders in the windows who serve as its guardians.

“I didn’t even know it was there,” said David Arata who was married in the church this past February. “When we first opened the doors there were cobwebs everywhere. There hadn’t been anyone in there for awhile.”

The chapel was dusted and cleaned for the wedding, but soon after the doors were closed, and the spiders went back to work.

Cobwebs sparkle in the sunlight, wrapped around the legs of an antique piano. Photographs of faces long gone decorate the walls. Some are dated as far back as the 1880s. Their frames aged with cracked paint, perhaps once white, hang without precision.

A 1911 snapshot titled Frank Bryant’s Aeroplane shows men and boys checking out the machine. Another pictures the Rochdale Market in Hollister pre–1906. A man named Ben Sears shows off his new automobile in 1902.

Index cards underneath are long yellowed with time.

“It looked like it never left the 1800s,” Arata said of his visit in February. “It looked like it had never been touched.”

The chapel was built in 1893 and located at Dunneville Corners in Hollister. From 1915 to 1927, it was used by a variety of denominations and attendance dwindled, said Lucy Solorzano, coordinator for the Gilroy Museum.

For decades it stood abandoned and vacant before Gavilan’s first president Ralph Schroder took an interest in the chapel and purchased it from the family of Pierre Angot with help from Native Daughters of the Golden West.

Between 1972 and 1975 the Gavilan College carpentry students took it apart board by board under the direction of former carpentry instructor Hal Dromensk.

“(They) reconstructed it a near as possible to the original,” Solorzano said. Board by board they put it back together again.

It has served as a popular site for wedding ceremonies ever since

After its rededication in June 1975, the chapel has not been maintained.

Mustard yellow paint peels from the sideboards, dust blankets the window sills, alter and pews. An exposed wooden panel reveals rotting from the inside. Sawdust covers the planks where a bridgegroom would stand. The burgundy carpet is covered with wood shards and nails. Sanders and roter bits flank the back instead of flowers.

But now, Shannon Kelly, owner of Shannon Kelly Construction, is bringing it back to life.

“We’re just giving it a face lift,” Kelly said.

He specializes in restoration and remodeling, and was hired by Gavilan to renovate the chapel.

Since early April, Kelly and his cousin Pat Weymouth have worked to bring it back to its original state.

“A lot of this stuff is original,” Kelly said motioning to the frame. “The old stuff they don’t make it anymore – so we need to do a lot of milling. The big things is – they didn’t break those windows (when it was moved.)”

Standing outside the San Felipe Community Church, you could be in upstate Vermont.

Fish–scale shingles, gingerbread molding, and steep–pitched stain glass windows give the chapel a Victorian era quality.

In the 1800s, building materials and designs were sent around Cape Horn from New England to California, Kelly said. Many frames were already built in New England, so some Californian architecture retains a colonial flair.

During the goldmining rush, east coast architects moved west bringing their Victorian designs with them.

The San Felipe Community Church has a Victorian style, but was built with Redwood trees from the surrounding areas, Kelly said.

The cost of repairing the chapel is upwards of $40,000, Kelly said.

Once the outside painting is complete, only the floors need to be resurfaced.

Freshly painted pews congregate in the center of the one–room church. The interior walls glisten with fresh egg–shell paint.

“We’re just putting the frosting on,” said Aaron Saucedo, a former Gavilan student and owner of Saucedo’s Painting who was hired to paint the chapel.

“When I was a student here (from 1999 to 2002), I would just hike up and see this house – I didn’t know it was a chapel,” Saucedo said. “The doors were always locked.”

Saucedo is not straying from its 1972 color scheme.

A rock with the a plaque sits in the geranium garden outside the newly–remodeled doors.

It gives a brief synopsis of how the San Felipe Community Church came to Gilroy, but the faces inside know its past.

“It’s kind of a part of history,” Kelly said.

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