Turlock’s earliest Assyrian church, set for demolition, was saved this week by the efforts of Turlock Mayor John Lazar.
“I couldn’t see it being torn down,” Lazar said. “It was part of Turlock’s history.”
The church, initially built in 1923 for Assyrians of all denominations, became the site of Crane Elementary School when sold to the Turlock Unified School District in the 1950s. For years, the building was used as the school cafeteria.
Even as Crane Elementary School’s mission changed in recent years, shifting from a traditional elementary to a kindergarten-only facility and then into the site of TUSD’s Head Start preschool program, the building remained a campus fixture. But the newest plan – to repurpose the campus as the eCademy charter school beginning in fall 2011 – calls for the demolition of the old cafeteria as part of a $2.65 million makeover, approved by the TUSD Board Trustees on Aug. 24, 2010.
As Lazar attended that school board meeting, he remembered the building’s roots as an Assyrian church.
“I had recalled my father had told me that was the church he had attended when he was young, and my grandparents too,” Lazar said, who remembered watching home movies showing the church in the building.
Lazar, along with Turlocker Mike Warda, decided to call the TUSD and ask for a temporary reprieve for the building, so that he might be able to move the building to a new home. The district agreed, and on Wednesday the movers came in.
On Thursday, the building was wheeled, ever so slowly, to St. Addai Assyrian Church of the East on Monte Vista Avenue. The new church agreed to house the old church on their land, plunking it down in a parcel initially reserved for the pastor’s home.
The permanent site could yet move, Lazar said, depending on the church’s space needs. But Lazar has high hopes for the former church, which still appears to feature the original wooden roof and floor.
Lazar hopes to turn the building into a museum for Turlock’s Assyrian churches, uniting members of the various Assyrian faiths to create a lasting monument open to all Turlockers.
“Whether or not you’re Assyrian, you’re going to appreciate the building,” Lazar said.
There’s much work still to be done. First, while Lazar and Warda paid most of the moving costs, some yet remain. Then it’s the hard work of organizing volunteers and refurbishing the old church house.
But, for Lazar, the hard work will be worth it.
“I’m very sentimental. I love history, and I love Turlock history and this means a lot to me,” Lazar said.
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