Residents fear 1928 church’s sale will put history at risk

One of Costa Mesa’s oldest churches is up for sale, and Eastside residents are worried about new development and closing the book on a page of local history.

Costa Mesa Historical Society records say the Craftsman-style building at 1950 Church St., last occupied by the Costa Mesa Community of Christ, was built in 1928.

The church gave Church Street its name, back when the Eastside was part of a farming community with 5-acre plots for sale, said historical society volunteer Art Goddard.

Farmers of the 1920s would have balked at today’s steep land prices, though.

The asking price for the nearly quarter-acre property is $1.4 million.

It last sold in 1973 for $49,500, according to property records, which actually list it at 1952 Church St.

The church, an off-white A-frame in stuccoed-over Craftsman style, last held services in February, according to its pastor, Perry Pace, who served there for 15 years. Most of the congregation has since folded into another in Orange.

“Closing a congregation is a hard thing to do,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

He described how Costa Mesa’s congregation, which met at the Orange County Fairgrounds in a Quonset hut in the early 1970s before moving to Church Street, started with around 140 members.

By 2014, however, membership had dwindled to less than 20 people, most of whom were commuting to Costa Mesa for services.

“It’s really been my pleasure to serve the people, to serve my creator and try to make a difference in the neighborhood,” Pace said.

He added that the money from the sale will go to the church’s umbrella organization, into its international outreach and youth programs and its campground in Idyllwild. The decisions will be made from the church’s headquarters in Independence, Mo., Pace said.

Goddard noted that the church is one of 29 buildings eligible for the city’s historic register, the guidelines of which were first approved by the City Council in 1999. Applying for the register is up to the property owner, however.

At least one potential buyer has expressed interest, though she’s worried that the price is out of reach.

Darcie Kass, director of A Child’s Place Learning Center, which is located across the street, said she would like to use the property as a second site for her preschool and child-care facility.

“I’ve been thinking of expanding for quite some time,” she said.

Kass said she would only renovate the plumbing and electrical work, keeping the core of the historic church intact.

“My thoughts are that I wouldn’t even have to touch the outside of the building,” she said.

Kass said she and others along Church Street are worried about an increase in cars if the property is turned into residences, having noticed that drivers already speed through the four-way intersection, which is a two-way stop.

In addition, the nearby automotive businesses on Walnut Street rely on the church’s parking lot for their employees.

The 0.23-acre parcel is zoned for multifamily residential, a city designation of medium density. Two housing units would be permitted there under city zoning codes.

Kurt Smith, who has lived on Church Street for 15 years, hopes the property remains a place of worship.

“It wouldn’t make sense to have a Church Street without a church,” he said.

Should Costa Mesa Community of Christ be replaced with residences, such a transformation wouldn’t be the first in the city.

The Port Mesa church, which once occupied a 2.1-acre space at 650 Hamilton St., has been demolished. In its place will be 18 homes proposed by Newport Beach-based RSI Development.

The Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church’s former site at 1259 Victoria St., overlooking the Santa Ana River, has been approved for a 17-unit community called Westreef. The church has bought and moved into a larger property on Mesa Verde Drive East formerly owned by the Piecemakers.