TUSTIN : Jehovah's Witnesses Celebrate Hall

Built entirely by volunteers working on weekends, the new Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Tustin celebrated its grand opening Friday.

"This is a real thrill," said Duane Henley, who is part of the group's governing body. "I say that because, with this new facility, we see the organization growing and expanding."

The 10,700-square-foot assembly hall, designed for worship and Bible study, will be used by six English- and Spanish-speaking congregations from Santa Ana, Tustin and Irvine, officials said.

The congregations, governed by an unpaid administrative group known as the elders, average about 125 members each, officials said.

Built in a U shape with two auditoriums that can seat nearly 500 each, the tan stucco building with a red tile roof is something of a departure from the denomination's typically Spartan structures, said Fred VanRy, a congregation elder.

"This is a little more elaborate than usual, since most of our Kingdom Halls are not extravagant," he said. "But to get the permits we needed, we had to comply with the style of the surrounding area."

Though the Kingdom Hall, at 2850 Pioneer Way, sits in a mostly undeveloped area of East Tustin, the area is owned by Irvine Co. and slated for development within the next few years.

The hall cost $700,000 in materials to build but is appraised at $1.5 million, VanRy said. It sits on a 1.9-acre parcel.

About two years went into preparation for the building, but construction was completed in just a few weekends earlier this year. About 300 volunteers, who came from as far as San Diego and Santa Barbara, were on hand on a typical construction day, with nearly 700 turning out on one occasion, officials said.

"The most meals we served was 720 at one time," Henley said. "We served over 4,000 meals during the construction."

Since the 1980s, almost all Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Halls in the United States have been erected by the same "quick-build" method, which members in Oklahoma and Kansas began in the early 1970s, church officials said. Building in remote locations and lacking construction crews, those congregations devised the highly organized procedure.

The religion, which is best known for its door-to-door evangelism and its bimonthly publication, The Watchtower, says it has about 760,000 member congregations in 132 countries.

Orange County, officials said, is a stronghold for the denomination in Southern California and is home to nearly 100 congregations that speak a variety of languages.

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