“Tacoma’s Notre Dame” is how former mayor and historian Bill Baarsma described Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
“Endangered” would be another description.
Baarsma was one of more than 200 people who last week attended the first meeting organized to save the church after a decree from the Seattle Archdiocese the weekend before to close and raze the nearly 100-year-old landmark. 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 at the meeting Thursday evening emblazoned with the “Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church” logo. Yard signs were passed out. Email addresses were exchanged.
When the crowd grew too large, the group moved from a meeting room on church grounds to the adjacent school’s auditorium.
They might be many in number, but task is daunting.
“Saving the church is entirely up to us,” former parishioner Jonathan Carp said. Carp is on the board of Save Tacoma’s Landmark Church. But they are asking the Catholic Church for a reprieve.
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 the archbishop 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 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.
The church was one of the first buildings placed on the city’s register of historic landmarks in the 1970s, McKnight said, and cannot be demolished without the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. That process includes a public hearing.
“Hopefully, we’re not going to get there,” he 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 plan a variety of fundraisers.
Baarsma isn’t a parishioner. 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 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.”