COLORADO: Grace & St. Stephen's receives grant to preserve historic office building

February 8, 2010

The Colorado State Historical Fund of the state historical society has awarded a $170,700 grant to Grace and St. Stephen's Church for preservation of McWilliams House, which houses the church offices.

The grant money will augment $114,468 the church is contributing toward the project, according to Mark Stritzel, chair of the McWilliams House Rehabilitation Committee, and owner of Stritzel Construction Management Co.

Grace and St. Stephen's, the first Episcopal church in the Colorado Springs area of the Denver-based Diocese of Colorado, requested assistance for stabilization and rehabilitation of the building's exterior. It features such distinctive characteristics as two-story porches, hipped roofs, a variety of dormers, decorative shingling and decorative glass reminiscent of the Late Victorian/Queen Anne Free Classic architectural style.

"Without immediate work the building is in jeopardy of permanently losing historic character-defining features, such as its distinctive porches, wood siding and other decorative elements," according to a Feb. 1 press release announcing the award.

Considered a significant historical landmark in downtown Colorado Springs, the McWilliams House was erected in 1899 for local grocers Mr. and Mrs. George Bernard at a reported cost of $40,000, considered expensive at the time.

"Our church is very excited to bring the building back up to snuff," Stritzel said in a Feb. 9 telephone interview from Colorado Springs. "It's got a lot of good history for our church," he added. "A lot of good ministry has happened through that building over the years and continues to happen.

"Unfortunately, in the 1960s, a lot of these grand old buildings were torn down. But, they're touching a sense of the past for a lot of people these days, and so there are efforts to preserve them, since we don't really have that many left," he added.

In 1969 the church purchased the house for use as a youth outreach facility and later moved its offices into the structure.

In the four decades since Grace and St. Stephen's purchased the building, the church has been responsible for helping to start several community non-profits, including Ecumenical Social Ministries, which provides social services for the homeless and unemployed, and Thrift House, a non-profit resale shop.

In addition, McWilliams House provided practice and performance space for the Opera Theater of the Rockies, the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra.

The congregation had been embroiled in a bitter court fight over the property. But on March 24, 2009, an El Paso County judge ordered a breakaway group to vacate the buildings.

Judge Larry E. Schwarz ruled that the church's property and assets, estimated at about $17 million, were held in trust for the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Denver-based diocese. The group turned over the property in April of last year.

By restoring the McWilliams Building the parish hopes to continue to offer the facility for service to the community, according to the Feb.1 release.

"The wonderful thing is, the inside is still beautiful and in great shape. It's just the exterior that needs the help," said Stritzel.

The work is expected to begin in the summer of 2010 and to be completed by late October.

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