Epilogue: Distinctive Church Meets Wrecking Ball

Distinctive Church Meets Wrecking Ball
BY: Sarah Gordon
POWAY A heptagonal dome atop the Christian Science church building on Pomerado Road has cut a singular architectural figure for the past 40 years.
But yesterday, demolition started on the landmark that renowned
architect Edward Durell Stone designed. Riddled with mold problems and a leaky roof, the building hasn't been used as the main church since 1994. After that, Sunday school met there, but the building has been unused for the past year. A church representative said the congregation searched for a buyer, but found none.
Now the building must make way for the construction of a new Sunday school, said Pamela Scott, a church member since 1981 who is overseeing the demolition and new construction.
"It was a lovely building and it has nice memories, but it's just not usable anymore," she said.
The building actually lasted much longer than it was supposed to.
It originally stood as a temporary exhibit at the 1964-65 New York
World's Fair. The starkly geometric Christian Science Pavilion was intended to spend two years enticing fairgoers in for a religious
experience, and then face the wrecking ball.
But the pavilion found an unlikely second life nearly 2,500 miles away
in the developing community of Poway, where an expanding congregation of Christian Scientists was ready for a new church.
"That this building found its way all the way here is astonishing," said Robert Skolmen, a librarian from San Mateo and expert on Stone's works, which include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1965, San Diego contractor and Christian Scientist Ralph Nelson saw the pavilion at the fair and negotiated with the main church in Boston to bring it to Poway.
The church sold the pavilion - which originally cost $1.25 million - to the branch church for $1, on the condition the Poway congregation pay for shipping and reconstruction.
Nelson oversaw the work of dismantling, packing and shipping the 50-ton building. It traveled in four large containers by freighter through the Panama Canal to Long Beach. There it was loaded onto trucks and shipped to Poway.
At the time, a brief notice in Time magazine described the project
and put its cost at $79,000, which would be about $462,000 today.
In Poway, Nelson supervised the reconstruction of the building, with its two seven-sided chambers and 25-foot-high, seven-sided glass skylight.
His daughter, Pamela Ludwig, 51, said that bringing the pavilion to
rural Poway in the 1960s was visionary. "The design was so innovative and so futuristic," she said. "And here in Poway at the time, there were Black Angus cows."
The church held its first services in August 1966.
"It was fantastic; we had so many people," said 85-year-old Betty
Meanley, the church historian. "But it only lasted one or two Sundays. There were a lot of visitors interested in seeing the building."
Stone, who lived from 1902 until 1978, generally worked in squares and rectangles, and the pavilion's design was atypical for him, Skolmen said.
Originally a modernist, Stone later eschewed modernism's emphasis on plain utilitarianism. He designed skyscrapers sheathed in marble, such as Chicago's 83-story Standard Oil building, and embellished his structures with ornamental grilles.
Critics now have a mixed view of Stone. To some, much of his work looks dated or tacky.
One of his buildings, at 2 Columbus Circle in New York, set off a bitter preservation battle. Built in 1964 to house the Gallery of Modern Art, critics derisively called the skinny tower with a base of Venetian columns the "lollipop building."
A drastic update of its facade is under way, after several lawsuits and an impassioned New York Times op-ed piece by writer Tom Wolfe failed to stop the work commissioned by its new tenant, the Museum of Arts and Design.
No real controversy surrounds the demolition of the building in Poway.
City Planner Patti Brindle said that the city studied whether the
structure qualified for landmark status. But an expert consultant
determined it lost its significance when it moved from the World's Fair site.
The congregation had hoped to preserve the pavilion by selling it. In 2002, the congregation listed the building on eBay for its original price of $1.
At least five people from across the country came to see it. But one by one, each found that the cost of shipping and reassembling the building was prohibitive.
Still, in a what would be symmetry, a savior from the opposite coast may ultimately rescue the building from utter destruction.
Gary Holmes, an attorney who lives about 70 miles northwest of New York City, is awaiting word from contractors on whether a small piece of the building can be saved.
A Stone aficionado, Holmes was tipped off by Skolmen about the demolition.
Holmes hopes to haul a seven- sided skylight from the building's smaller chamber across the country in a truck. There, he will offer it to the Stone-designed Sullivan County Community College.
"I decided a piece of the building needed to saved, a piece that
represented what the building was about," Holmes said from his home in New York. "I think I'm really propelled by the fact that no one else is doing it."
The building's motif of seven represents the Christian Science faith's seven synonyms for God: principle, mind, soul, spirit, life, truth and love.
Stone conceived that the seven-sided central glass dome would bathe the main chamber of the pavilion in a peaceful contemplative light, making the hall a kind of sanctuary for fairgoers
"The world's fair had an atmosphere of frantic huckstership," Skolmen said. "This (building) would attract people looking for a quiet place
to relax and collect their thoughts."
In other words, the perfect target audience for a religious exhibit.
After the fair, The Christian Science Monitor reported that around 800,000 people had visited the pavilion.
To Ludwig, a member of the Poway congregation, the church building has always had personal and spiritual meaning. But she said she didn't lament the decision to demolish what her father brought here.
"To me, it embodied the spirit of adventure, of taking risks," she said. "So whether the building goes is kind of irrelevant.
"His initiative extended the life of that building 40 years."

SOURCE: Newsclipping, San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE, June 16, 2006, Presented courtesy David Kushing