“Tacoma’s Notre Dame” is how former mayor and historian Bill Baarsma described Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Thursday night.
“Endangered” would be another apt description.
Baarsma was one of over 200 people who attended the first meeting organized to save the church following last weekend’s decree from the Seattle Archdiocese to close and raze the nearly 100-year-old landmark.
The group had to move from a meeting room on church grounds to the adjacent school’s auditorium when the crowd grew too large Thursday evening.
They might be many in number, but they face a daunting task.
The Archdiocese said the building needs $2.5 million in repairs to get it in shape for occupancy and a total of $18 million to completely renovate it.
The church building, with its 210-foot-high steeple, has been unused since November after plaster fell from an interior ceiling and an inspection showed extensive damage.
Volunteers were selling T-shirts with the “Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church” logo printed on it Thursday. Yard signs were passed out. E-mail addresses were exchanged.
“Saving the church is entirely up to us,” former parishioner Jonathan Carp said. Carp is on the board of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church.
The group’s attorney is drafting an appeal to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain’s decree that closed the church and cleared the way for its destruction.
Once Sartain has the appeal, he’ll have 30 days to approve, deny or pass it along.
If denied, parishioners can appeal again — this time to the Vatican in Rome.
The group, Carp said, wants to know if the resources exist to restore the church.
“If they do, then we win,” he said.
Still, money is being raised locally. The group has pledges totaling over $100,000, said board member D.C. Grant.
“The money will go to payments to people who fix the building and not to the Archdiocese,” Grant said.
Some in the crowd on Thursday were skeptical of the Archdiocese’s figures.
“We think it’s lower,” is all Carp would said.
The city supports the push to save the church, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards told the group.
“I’m standing with you to make sure this church goes absolutely nowhere,” Woodards said to cheers.
“It’s truly an iconic building in the city of Tacoma,” historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight said.
McKnight told the crowd the church was one of the first buildings placed on the city’s register of historic landmarks in the 1970s.
The building cannot be demolished without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, McKnight said. That process includes a public hearing.
“Hopefully, we’re not going to get there,” he said.
No application to raze the building had been applied for as of Thursday, McKnight said.
“It’s a treasure, it’s iconic,” Baarsma said after the meeting broke up. “If it were to be torn down, it would be another Tacoma story. It’d be embarrassing and tragic.”
“Tacoma story” is a reference to the city’s list of lost landmarks: The Narrows Bridge, the Tacoma Hotel, the old Pierce County Courthouse.
“There is no other church more visible in this state than this church,” parishioner Melanie Wolf said.
Wolf and other volunteers were planning a variety of fundraisers.
Baarsma isn’t a parishioner himself. Judging by a show of hands, around a third of those attending weren’t either. Many attendees identified themselves as neighbors or, like Baarsma, interested in the city’s heritage.
Carp encouraged them all to join the movement.
“We need you to stay in this fight,” Carp said. “It’s going to be long, but we’re going to win.”