Those are the latest developments with the historic church, which was once the last prayer stop for sailors going off to war. It is now being eyed by the new owners of Liberty Station for redevelopment as something other than religious purposes.
It was announced in early December that much of Liberty Station, including the North Chapel, were sold for nearly $159 million to Pendulum Property Partners, a Southern California-based real estate firm in partnership with The Seligman Group. Pendulum has acquired 327,000-square-feet of Liberty Station multi-tenant retail and office space, which is approximately 98 percent occupied.
Seller McMillin Cos. retains ownership of one hotel site, two hotels under construction and a number of neighborhood office assets.
Previously, the new ownership group had suggested a deal might be negotiated to allow the two congregations to remain. But that appears now to be off the table.
In a letter sent to the congregations before the year-end holidays, 828 Venue Management Co. attached these conditions to continued use of the chapel site by the two church groups:
Rent will stay the same and be on a month-to-month basis.
Modifications will be made at some point and your parish may not be able to hold services for the duration of the construction.
You and your parish must be supportive of 828 and our proposed changes to the North Chapel.
In its letter, 828 Venue also made it clear that any further religious use of North Chapel would be “inclusive of the community and other faiths, and we intend to bring that versatility back with some modifications to the North Chapel so it can support all types of celebrations.”
“Why can’t we just use [North Chapel] and rent it in the meantime,” asked Torben Bruck of Our Lady Of Fatima, one the two congregations involved. “Why does this have to be a bargaining chip?”
Pointed out Bruck, “If [Pendulum] keeps it closed – they’re not going to be making any money.”
Bruck said his congregation's services have been moved indefinitely to Rose Creek Cottage, a popular Pacific Beach wedding venue.
Speaking for the other parish, St. John Bosco Mission, Arlene Paraiso said: “After I made it clear where I stood in regards to wanting to uphold the historicity of the chapel, keeping the pews intact and in the building and bolted to the ground etc., all other contact attempts from me were ignored. … At first it seemed that things would be good and we might be returning to the chapel … but after my pastor clearly stated our stance on wanting to uphold the integrity of the building, they basically told him that they couldn't rent to him.”
St. John Bosco is currently operating temporarily out of a facility in Clairemont.
Ron Slayen, an artisan and tenant in Liberty Station Arts District, vowed that public opposition to adapting the chapel for other uses will continue.
“We will absolutely fight to the end, until we see the pews being emptied out,” Slayen said half-jokingly, adding, “And I will be wrapped around one of those pews.”
Since 1942, North Chapel has served as a Naval worship site.
The chapel has also been rented out for weddings, funerals and special events.
Characterizing North Chapel as “a very sacred and significant historical building,” SOHO, a historic preservation organization, described plans to close the chapel for “interior renovations” as “suspect.”
SOHO has since questioned whether interior alteration, such as removal of the chapel pews, would constitute a violation of NTC Precise Plan and Historical District Guidelines.
Both San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, and San Diego Congressman Scott Peters, have called upon the city to investigate proposed alteration of North Chapel for non-religious uses.
The Beacon was unable to contact 828 Venue for further comment by press time.