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Moved but Not Forgotten : Memory-Laden Church Building Awaits New Life in a Saticoy Field

April 25, 1991|VIVIAN LOUIE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The white clapboard building sits alone in a mustard field in Saticoy, an abandoned country church that hearkens back to the days of horse-drawn buggies.

For more than 50 years, the building served as the site of the Sacred Heart Church. When the congregation moved to larger quarters, the building was abandoned.

The little church was originally built to be a post office at another location in Saticoy in the early 1900s. It was moved just before it was converted to a church about 1915.

It was moved again to its current location on Darling Road four years ago, after a developer bought it for $1 with plans to make it the centerpiece of a senior-citizen housing project he hopes to eventually build.

The project has been on hold for four years because of a moratorium on new development by Ventura, which controls growth in the area, said the developer, Bill Martin.

Martin's preliminary plans for the 24-acre site include a housing complex and a medical center, with the church, a Ventura County historical landmark, to be converted into a wedding chapel and a Saticoy museum.

"We moved it to our property and renovated it primarily because we didn't want to see it destroyed," Martin said.

Surrounded by wildflowers and a few feet of white picket fence, the building looks picture-perfect.

Little of its exterior has been changed, except for coats of paint, a new wood-shingled roof and a 19th-Century schoolhouse bell shipped from Arkansas. The building also sits on a temporary foundation.

"Everything that could be kept the same, we did," Martin said.

Inside, new rose carpeting covers the wood floors, and windows etched with roses have replaced the boards that were once there. But the original pews have long since disappeared, he said.

The building's one room is cluttered with pictures and maps of old Saticoy collected by Martin over the years. There are photographs of the Duval and Thille families, who were among the area's earliest settlers, and one taken of barefoot children at Saticoy Grammar School in 1890.

And there are photos tracing the building's history.

The building started as Arnold's General Store and Post Office in an old retail district at Saticoy Avenue and Telephone Road. In 1915 farmer John P. Thille had the building moved to Wells Road and Violeta Street. Thille and other community leaders converted it to a chapel, named Sacred Heart, and a parish of Mission of St. Sebastian in Santa Paula.

"Priests and nuns came from Santa Paula to teach the Spanish-speaking children," Martin said.

In the 1930s, the Vanoni family became members of the church, and they and other families worked to make it a full-fledged parish church, Martin said. But the building could only seat 200 people, and in 1968 the congregation relocated to another site on Henderson Road.

After the Catholic congregation moved to its current site, the little church was abandoned and boarded up. For almost two decades, it had no use except as a refuge for the homeless who sometimes crept in for shelter.

It was scheduled for demolition when Martin and his firm, Rosewood Park Partners, paid $1 for the building in 1987 and moved it to Darling Road.

Among the many residents who hope that the building survives is Father Arnold Biedermann of Sacred Heart, who said he hopes that Martin succeeds in his plan to preserve the building as a museum.

"It is a place where people can meditate, look around and see a piece of past Saticoy history," he said.

Biedermann said many members of the Sacred Heart congregation still feel attached to the building.

"The old-timers, they feel very close to that little building. Many were baptized there and had communions there. They have vivid memories," he said.

Saticoy resident Delphine Ortiz said she has a long history with the former church building.

"We made our first holy communion there--my sister, brother and I. It was a happy little community," she said.

Ortiz and her husband, Michael, were married in the church in 1940. But she is philosophical about its abandonment.

"We have to take it just like the passing of time. What is dear to me is of no importance to somebody else," she said.

But Martin said he still gets questions about the building from interested passersby.

"People call us all the time and ask to use it as a wedding chapel. Whenever the building moratorium is lifted, we can go forward," he said.

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