The future is uncertain for the historic building that houses the Lewiston Civic Theatre.The group continues to wait for an engineer’s cost estimate to stabilize the condemned stone church. This would allow the city to open a closed block of Eighth Street, but it would not mean the building is safe for use. The group anticipates that the price for the temporary stabilization will be far beyond its ability to pay. At Monday’s Lewiston City Council meeting, Mayor Jim Kleeburg said the building needs to be shored up quickly so the arterial can be reopened. If it can’t, he
suggested the building may have to be torn down.
The building began its life 109 years ago as a financial burden for its
It was conceived by the Rev. William Euster, known as a church builder. An architect named H.N. Black followed him around the West, helping make his visions a reality.
Euster was assigned a new congregation every three years, and the two collaborated on Methodist churches in Montana, in Great Falls and Anaconda, and in 1904, the First Methodist Church in Moscow, according to information from the National Register of Historic Places, where both the Moscow and Lewiston churches are listed.
Euster came to Lewiston in 1905, and convinced his new congregation to sell its Main Street location in favor of erecting a new Methodist-Episcopal church on Normal Hill, which had become a prime residential area. The church was originally planned for Pioneer Park, but the city council would not agree to that location. Construction of a $40,000 building began in 1907 at 805 Sixth Ave.
In 1908, Euster moved on to Pendleton, Ore., leaving behind a deeply divided congregation in debt with an unfinished building. Contractors placed a lien on the structure. A scaled-down version of his original plan was completed in 1909 after Methodist National Headquarters lent the congregation $5,000.
Euster and Black went on to build other churches in Pendleton and Portland. In 1908, Euster published a book titled “The Philosophy of Church Building: How to Build a Beautiful and Modern Church or Parsonage at Half Price.”
Built from sandstone masonry with arched and circular stained glass windows, a hipped roof and battlemented towers, the building is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque revival style architecture, according to the registry.
The style is named after its creator, the mid- to late-1800s architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who based it on French and Spanish Romanesque styles from the 11th century. His ideas were copied by numerous architects, including Black, before dying out in the early 1900s. The 1979 historic register nomination form calls the building “significant as one of the best and best-preserved examples of early 20th century church architecture in Lewiston.”
In 1971, the church’s congregation moved to a new building and the Lewiston Civic Theatre moved in, taking ownership in 1972. The group had been looking for a building, said Fred Scheibe, who oversaw the Lewiston Civic Theatre for 35 years.
“We had several members of the theater that were Methodist and one of them talked about the building for sale. So we had a fundraiser led by Harry Wall and bought the building,” Scheibe said.
The costs and work of maintaining the old building were always an issue, said Scheibe, who retired in 1999 but has stayed involved with the theater. Challenges included the roof, the plumbing and the electrical system. An electrician volunteered to rewire the electrical system incrementally, he said.
“There was a lot of help, community support … and I don’t mean moneywise, I mean in volunteering and seeing that things got done. It was a slow process. It didn’t happen overnight. It was continually trying to keep up with the city on all of their requirements, especially electrical, but we kept pushing it and they kept OK’ing it,” he said.
Over the years, many people involved with the theater suggested starting a capital campaign to fund the building’s maintenance but it never happened. Inspectors determined that the broken ceiling truss discovered earlier this month was caused by long-term water damage from a leaking roof. Scheibe said a constantly shifting board of directors made things difficult.
“I know it was brought up a lot and it should have been done but you know, then different people would come in and the emphasis on what should be done was changed several times. I don’t know, I always wanted a strong board of directors that was there to raise money and see that those things were taken care of, but it got to the point where most of the people on the board were more interested in what the plays were and didn’t have the resources to raise the money we needed.”
Now 82, Scheibe said the building holds a special place in his heart. Not only did he spend his career there, he attended church there as a child. It’s a landmark building in Lewiston, and it would be nice if the community could come together to save it, he said.
“I would like to see it taken care of but I don’t know. It’s a beautiful old building, and I think a perfect building for us sizewise, but a lot of people think differently, so I don’t know. I think there’s a whole faction that would like to build a new building, but I think that would cost as much as repairing the old building or even more. I just don’t know how bad the repairs are.”