Garfield Park Christian Church / Circle Church
News

As Church’s Downtown Brewpub Fails, a Fight Over Its Old Home

Westsiders say Errett Circle building is too historic to get torn down for housing development

In the window of the old Logos bookstore downtown are signs promising that Greater Purpose Brewing Company will be “coming 2019.”

But with the year having come and gone, that promise has faded. And the site of the beloved former Pacific Avenue shop sits empty, despite a year and a half’s worth of anticipation for a new brew pub, which would have hosted Sunday service for its partner organization, the Greater Purpose Community Church. Bar proceeds would have gone to nonprofits like Planned Parenthood.

In late 2017, the church sold its previous location in the bullseye center of Westside Santa Cruz’s “circles” neighborhood for $3.3 million, and that property has since been enmeshed in controversy, with neighbors fighting plans to redevelop the space for housing and asking questions about the old church building’s historical significance.

Now, Greater Purpose is looking for a home once again. That’s after unexpectedly high remodeling costs—plumbing issues among them—outpaced the budget by about $800,000, says pastor Christopher VanHall.

VanHall says he is hoping to find someone to sublet the space at 1117 Pacific Avenue. Former Logos owner John Livingston still owns the building. “We’re not back at square one, but definitely at square two or three,” VanHall says. 

VanHall says there are a few possibilities for a new place of worship, none of which he’s at liberty to discuss. The church is still hoping to run a brewery that would help fund charitable endeavors.

VanHall describes Greater Purpose Community Church as open and affirming of the LGBTQ community—with an emphasis on racial and social justice. Even nonbelievers are encouraged to come. 

“Half of our church identifies as atheist,” says VanHall, who took over the congregation in 2014.

Before VanHall joined, the church was known as the Disciples of Christ, which allows its member churches to form their own cultures.

But when VanHall took over, his new approach rankled many of the more traditional congregants, says former member April Knobloch, who feels that the time and place for such politicking is not in church. The move caused a schism in the congregation, with many members moving to other branches of the Gospel Community Church, she explains.

VanHall, who has run Sunday services in the Food Lounge at 1001 Center Street since the 2017 sale, says a church’s heart does not lie within its structure. 

“Love, justice and equality are where the church should focus their attentions,” he says.

CIRCLING BACK

Stark gray and steepled, the Garfield Park Christian Church at 111 Errett Circle is surrounded on three sides by a cracked parking lot and fronted by a courtyard covered almost entirely with dead grass.

Unremarkable as religious edifices go, the building gives off an aura of strained effort, as if trying to keep age and blight at bay. The nearby city blocks stretch out from the property in concentric circles, a dizzying effect for anyone who’s ever gotten lost in the neighborhood.

The old church’s new owners—a group calling itself the Circle of Friends—have plans to build their homes on the 1.7-acre property, with a vision for a co-housing development where everything is shared, from tools to childcare to cooking.  

The group includes two businesspeople, a teacher, a contractor, an outdoor guide and a retired firefighter. “We are a group of Santa Cruz locals with a dream of living within a multigenerational cohousing community,” says member Caitlin Rose. “We want to live in our community, close to our friends and family, as well as share meals, gardens, childcare and elder care.”

The Friends have submitted two plans to the city, one featuring 12 5,000 square-foot lots, and another with 10 lots. All include accessory dwelling units, meaning the lot potentially could hold up to 24 new residences.

Both plans feature solar power, a community kitchen, a playing field and a shared garden. Some of the homes would be affordable. The field and garden would be open to the public.

The group is waiting for the city to approve one of the plans.

Group members like Joseph Combs, a small business owner, say they couldn’t afford to purchase their own homes in the county. “I’d rather start with dirt,” says Combs, who’s rehabbed homes to earn extra money. “It truly is a way to be able to afford a home here. This is a big step for us all. We have a lot on the line.”

Realtor Mark Thomas says that the proposal lets the owners design their own homes, thus helping the neighborhood retain its eclectic feel. 

The alternative, he says, could be ownership by a large development company looking to turn a profit.

STORY ARCHIVE

The origins of the circle neighborhood date back to 1889, when the Rev. David Wells took a 10-acre parcel and created a neighborhood of circles centered around a place of worship. Lot prices ranged from $105 to $135, according to information on file at Santa Cruz Public Libraries.

Those properties were used by people attending an annual two-week religious convention that featured camping, barbecues, pop-up restaurants and biblical bacchanalia.

For about four years, the property served as the winter home for the Norris & Rowe Circus, elephants and all.

The place was unofficially named Garfield Park in honor of the recently assassinated U.S. president, a name that has stuck in various iterations through the years.

The original church featured a 100-foot-tall bell tower and a hall that fit 2,000 people. 

In 1907, some 84 people attended the first sermon when the Church of Christ – Garfield Park was opened.

The church burned down in 1935, only to become a playground five years later. A new church opened in 1959 in the same building that stands today.

The church and its adjacent community center have for decades served as a home for numerous groups, including the Coryell Autism Center, West Performing Arts and the Cabrillo Choir.

People have come to take classes ranging from fencing to jazzercise. In the past, the gymnasium has provided a place for a food pantry and a meeting place for Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Resident Jennifer Smith, who has taught Japanese sword and aikido classes at the church, is part of a group hoping to protect the building, keep the property as it is, and increase its use as a community center.

“We want this to be a neighborhood hub, really part of the fabric of the community of Santa Cruz,” she says. “Deep generations of people have used this, and this is a time when we really need something like this. Our vision is to create a really positive future.”

For much of last year, neighbors pressured the city of Santa Cruz to protect the old church space. The Santa Cruz City Council in December narrowly approved a motion to send the issue to the Historic Preservation Commission, which will vote Jan. 15 on whether the property does in fact hold historic value. If it does, the issue will go for a final vote to the City Council.

There’s one potential obstacle standing in the way of historic preservation: numerous surveys have shown that the property does not meet requirements to be placed on the historical register. This includes a May 2019 review by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which states repeatedly that the site and building hold no historical significance.

It’s not listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historical Resources.

In any case, a distinction from the history commission would make the property much more difficult and expensive for Circle of Friends—or any other group—to develop. 

Estimates for fixing up the existing building might not come cheap, either.

Richard Walton, ‪who worked as a treasurer under VanHall, says salvaging the existing buildings would be no easy feat, as they have a laundry list of deferred maintenance, including aging heating ducts, a troubled water and sewage system and a poor foundation. 

These repairs have been estimated at $350,000. “We were facing negative income every month,” he says. “And every time we tried to do something to generate income, we ran into obstacles with the city.”

On top of that, Rose notes that no potential buyers, like the city of Santa Cruz or neighborhood groups, have come forward.

“If we are put in a situation where we have to sell the property,” she says, “it is extremely likely that it will be sold to a big developer who has the money, the lawyers, and the time to eventually push through a development.”

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Sue Powell

    January 13, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    I appreciate that the Good Times is publicizing this issue, but the article paints an incorrect picture of the true beauty of the Circle Church and the significance of its history. The current owners have abandoned landscape maintenance and have let the buildings fall into disrepair. This formerly vibrant and lively property has become neglected and underutilized. Neighbors and friends of the Circle Church want to protect the Church from demolition and support revitalization. We want to see the Circle Church return to its full glory as a thriving spiritual and community Center, the heart of the Circles Neighborhood, and a hub for classes, gatherings, and events. We have been active for over a year and have more than 1050 petition signatures and a large email list.

    We were especially concerned about the developers’ first historic report for the property. Guild’s article has incorrect information about the historic report. The developers’ historic report uses the California State document number of DPR523. The State did not prepare this report – the developers paid a consultant to prepare it. This first historic report was critiqued by members of the Santa Cruz City’s Historic Preservation Commission and found to be inadequate, incomplete, and full of errors. The developers were required to submit a second historic report.

    The Santa Cruz City Council voted on December 10th to ask the HPC to review the second historic report at a Public Hearing on Thursday, January 30, 7 pm, at the City Council Chambers (note re-scheduled date). The City Council has also asked the HPC to provide a recommendation as to whether the property merits designation as a Local Historic Landmark.

    We are convinced that the property will receive historic designation and will be spared from demolition.

  2. Mike Cox

    January 13, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Jennifer Smith,

    Did the Circle Women’s Coalition offer a reasonable return compared to the planned use of the property?

    I’d avoid the dog whistles and microaggressions, rash value judgments, against the owners and “privileged” people. What do any of us really know about them? Being rich or poor does not automatically make a person good or bad. Nor does being a nonprofit or community group. We can’t lift some people up financially by tearing other people down financially. It just backfires and makes a mess of everything.

    Welcome to housing. Housing is critical for stability and well being, but it is a mess price wise, because neighborhood groups fight it tooth and nail. Their choice. Result: impossible prices for everyone else. This logical and to-be-expected outcome does not mean free license to appropriate other people’s property, especially when it is the same I-got-mine hypocrites doing the appropriation.

  3. Mike Cox

    January 13, 2020 at 10:59 am

    One has to question the sense of entitlement. What gives neighbors and non-profits the right to interfere with another person’s property, up to and including bankrupting the property owner? Oh well, par for the course in Santa Cruz, where the hypocrites put the screws to anyone trying to make houses for other people.

  4. John Mckelvey

    January 10, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Yes, exactly. Same story every time anyone proposes anything in our community. Only thing missing here is tar plant.

  5. Marianne Sullivan

    January 9, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    I represent one of the current non-profits that is located on the site, and, like the church and other non-profits we continue to provide needed services to the local community. The article, unfortunately, appears to favor the investors while minimizing the contribution of the non-profit service providers.
    Many cities have found ways to insure the survival of vital non-profits while at the same time providing a range of new housing for all socioeconomic levels of the community. Instead, our local neighborhood has had to protest the demolition of existing buildings that actively help the community to prevent the construction of unaffordable housing available only for a select few.
    As a 10-year tenant of the building, Coryell Center pays monthly fees for landscaping and building maintenance, so if you are thinking the building looks “worn down” you might check with the Circle of Friends owner group. The “cracked parking lots” do have two RVs and several boats belonging to the Circle of Friends owners for several who are living on the property. The vehicles are an eyesore for people living nearby and for the adults with autism and their families who use our services.
    Finally, a vibrant community needs services for those in need and housing that is affordable for all.

  6. robyn marx

    January 9, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Just what Santa Cruz needs, another brew pub, only thing we have more of are coffee shops and taquerias.

  7. patrick grube

    January 8, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    Awful article.

  8. Jennifer Smith

    January 8, 2020 at 7:48 am

    As a member of the Circle Women’s Coalition, a group that has come together to preserve and develop this property as a community center , I am aware that a very purchasing offer was made to the Circle of Friends. And they refused. Also of significance is the fact that a huge LA developer, Alex Hakakian is the major shareholder of this development. And that’s being buried in the green washing of this project. We all agree housing is an issue. But hitting a community for the financial benefit of a few very privileged people isn’t folksy. And neither is this project.
    We want to think of the good of the many and true social equity of a place that provides culture, connection, and confluence to our children and the future, in perpetuity.

    • Yennefer Smyth

      January 9, 2020 at 9:54 pm

      Aren’t the people blocking the housing the privileged people in this story? One big “I Got Mine, Forget You”

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