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Historic North Chapel rings in new era at Liberty Station

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The historic North Chapel in Point Loma is ringing in a new era after undergoing an ambitious renovation effort to the tune of $1.35 million.

C.W. Clark Inc. refurbished and retrofitted the 64-year-old North Chapel in Liberty Station. The mixed-use project reopened in August and will celebrate a rededication ceremony from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Refurbished and retrofitted by C.W. Clark Inc., the 64-year-old North Chapel at Truxtun and Roosevelt roads in Liberty Station -- the mixed-use project arising out of the old San Diego Naval Training Center -- reopened in August and will celebrate a rededication ceremony from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, amid the pomp and parade reserved in the past for proud boot camp graduates.

The freshly painted white stucco and recently re-roofed red-tile chapel building, which served thousands of military personnel stationed at the Naval Training Center (NTC), is still graced by rows of hand-carved wooden pews, gleaming pipe organ and stained-glass windows depicting religious and naval scenes.

According to Craig Clark, president and CEO of the La Jolla-based C.W. Clark development firm, the 7,868-square-foot building's core structure and historical components were all retained, and it will remain as a place of worship and remembrance, as well as a gathering spot for secular holidays and special military events.

He said that few properties in San Diego have as much meaning for residents and visitors of a certain age as the North Chapel. The building has become "a part of people's life experience, and they're unwilling to relinquish it," Clark said. "People are just fond of the places that were the touchstone of their family."

Built in 1942, the two-story non-denominational chapel was used for a variety of causes and celebrations from worship to weddings by recruits and other Navy personnel at the training center, as well as for Navy ships stationed here or visiting the San Diego Port. The chapel, along with dozens of other military buildings on the bayside property, was closed by the Navy in 1997 and sat vacant until the nine-month makeover started last year.

The scope of work needed to bring the chapel from old guard to new rank was expansive and expensive, including: renovation and repair of the exterior and roof, repair of the historical stained-glass windows, replacement and upgrading of the electrical system, preservation of historical light fixtures, repair of plumbing and heating systems, refurbishing of wood pews and pulpit, replacement of interior flooring and preservation of and upgrading of irrigation system.

Hitting major renovation high notes were the replacement of the outdoor music system that provides traditional bell rings for the military chapel and modernization of the sanctuary's original pipe organ.

Preserving the past

By and large, San Diegans are nostalgic about aged mortar and brick, especially buildings like the iconic chapel that sings praise to the local military history as well as its Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style reflective of the 1914 California-Panama Exposition buildings in Balboa Park.

The North Chapel touched many lives, including developer Clark's, whose own father, H.W. Clark, went through NTC during World War II. It has added significance for Clark, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was a volunteer chaplain while serving off the coast of Vietnam in the mid-1960s. "That's why restoring and retaining the chapel was appealing to me," he said.

Martin "Dusty" Ucker, AIA, director of design and construction at C.W. Clark, recalled that during renovation, the site had a constant march of visitors who retold their personal experiences, including one elderly couple from Seattle celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary who had been married in the chapel.

"We stopped our work and provided them the opportunity to come inside and stay as long as they wanted," Dusty said. "It touched all of us and after that, we understood that our role was not just to repair the building, but to give it back to those who served."

Many of the design/construction team also had family members that were NTC recruits who had attended significant life events in the chapel, he noted.

Legacy Building Services was the general contractor on the project, and other key design consultants were Nadel Architects, Heritage Architects and ONA Landscape Architects.

Among the biggest challenges for the renovation team were the complicated rules dictating historic preservation, upgrading the building to provide access in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and installing an air conditioning system while maintaining the facility's original look.

This marks the first historical preservation project and first chapel for C.W. Clark, one of San Diego County's largest active commercial development firms, which currently has more than $300 million in commercial, hotel and urban real estate development under way in California, Arizona and Oregon.

In addition to the chapel, C.W. Clark is developing the $48 million Marketplace in five existing buildings at Liberty Station. The 160,000-square-foot retail center will include a Trader Joe's, Vons grocery store, restaurants, coffee shop, bookstore and one-of-a-kind boutiques.

For more information on C.W. Clark, visit www.cwclarkinc.com.

For more information on Liberty Station, visit www.libertystation.com.

Percival is principal of Scribe Communications.

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