Taking a pew to help preserve past

The inside of the vacant Port Mesa church is in thrashed disarray.

Broken-down doors, spilled roofing tar, shattered glass and trash are the evidence of vandals ravaging the former Westside Costa Mesa church and school from within.

The walls where the faithful once looked up in reverence and the pews where they sat are scarred by graffiti. All 34 mahogany pews must be restored and cleaned to be used again — which is exactly what the new owners want to see happen.

RSI bought the 2.1-acre property at 650 Hamilton St. in December 2012 for $3.1 million, according to public records. The Newport Beach-based company is known for its "New House" home-building projects — nine of which are in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach — that replace old homes with new ones in as little as 40 days.

The former Port Mesa property is residentially zoned for medium density, according to city documents. RSI is still working with city officials toward putting new housing there. It may contain between 15 and 20 single-family homes, said Mark Ellett, RSI's president of land acquisition.

Ellett said RSI wants to redevelop the area in an environmentally conscious way, including recycling and giving away what can be salvaged — right down to the pews.

"Those pews are probably worth something to somebody, even though they're now going to need some cleanup and restoring," Ellett said. "We're always very community focused, always trying to see what we can do for the community."

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger is helping, after examining the disorder within the church during one of his "Costa Mayberry" morning walks.

Mensinger sees the pews differently than most, given his family history in the lumber business, and he said, if new, they could sell for $2,000 or more apiece. The challenge now, however, is finding donors who are willing to put in the restoration work, he said.

RSI plans to demolish the church and adjacent school building, both built during the 1950s and '60s, within the next two weeks.

Last month, firefighters extinguished a blaze there and surmised that it may have been arson.

Those interested in the pews are asked to call RSI at (877) 418-2023 or email at sales@thenewhouse.com. They can also email Mensinger at stephen.mensinger@costamesaca.gov.

[For the record, 11:18 a.m. Aug. 2: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that RSI bought the property in March 2012. It was December 2012.]

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