Can't blame North Chapel plan on Corky

McMillin Companies' plan to turn sanctuary into restaurant...and more!

The North Chapel
  • The North Chapel
  • photo by Molly McLain (from San Diego Journal of History, Vol. 54, #2

The Corky McMillin Company’s quiet plan to turn the historic North Chapel at the Naval Training Center into a “restaurant space” is meeting with growing community resistance ranging from the congregations that pray there to the historical and architecture communities.

Chapel marker installed by McMillin

Chapel marker installed by McMillin

At the end of February, Milford Wayne Donaldson, the architect of record for the restoration of the Naval Training Center, sent a letter to mayor Kevin Faulconer urging the city and the mayor to oppose any change in how the chapel is used.

“The North Chapel is one of those unique buildings, constructed immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to honor those men and women of the U.S. Navy. Although Liberty Station contains many old barracks buildings, now used for retail of which I participated and proud of the results, the uses of both the North Chapel as well as the Command Center (Building 200) are unique public spaces and their historical uses are an important public policy consideration,” Donaldson’s letter says.

Another local architect, speaking on condition of anonymity, applauded Donaldson’s stand, saying that going against McMillin is a career-endangering move that took great courage.

Donaldson’s voice joins the more than 1000 people who have signed an online petition created by Arlene Paraiso, who is the coordinator for one of the two congregations that hold services in the chapel every Sunday. Both Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Bosco Mission hold masses; Our Lady at 11 a.m. and John Bosco at 4 p.m. They received notice last fall that their access to the chapel would end at the end of June.

“My dad’s funeral was held in the chapel, and my cousin’s wedding was here,” Paraiso said. “Our church has worked with young military couples who want to marry in the chapel because it was built to honor the sacrifices made by people in the military at Pearl Harbor.”

The McMillin Company and its commercial realtor declined to answer questions about the proposal. The company released a statement through its public relations company that says:

"Currently, the North Chapel building is significantly underutilized throughout the week. We are seeking a solution, and we're open to the possibilities of exploring the Chapel as a multi-purpose facility. The building is a historic property, and any future use will comply with adopted guidelines to protect this resource.”

The city handed over 361 acres of the 504-acre former training center to the McMillin Company in 2000. According to KPBS, McMillin paid nothing but promised to split profits with the city and make a new community out of the NTC.

In a 2010 KPBS interview John Warren notes that public access to spaces was part of the deal — which many believe turned out to be a lousy deal for the city. "The wording was little or no cost, number one. $3200 a day is not little or no cost in terms of making the facility available," Warren said.

The South Chapel was demolished in 2010, Paraiso says, using the explanation that it was under-utilized. That same explanation is being offered as justification to convert the North Chapel to a restaurant space with the restored stained-glass windows left in place, along with as many other historic features as possible.

Paraiso says that it can cost between $1000 and $3000 to have an event at the chapel — costs she says are too high, for example, for many military couples who want to marry there. Paraiso believes that McMillin agreed to let people use the space for a nominal fee.

(In March 2017, Voice of San Diego reported that high rents are driving artists out of the more than 20 acres set aside for the arts and cultural district.)

Capital Growth Properties is vetting potential tenants for the chapel and there are interested parties. Other spaces at NTC on the company website go for between $27 and $39 per square foot per year.

A commercial broker who is familiar with Capital Growth Properties said that it’s not unusual for a lease to involve sharing profits with the landlord and he would expect to see that at NTC restaurants. A deal like that keeps the landlord involved and invested in tenants’ successes, he said.

Capital Growth Properties declined to comment, referring reporter interest to McMillin’s PR people.

"There are lots of restaurants at NTC," Paraiso said. "It seems like preserving this historic space and public use should be just as important."

McMillin marker on Building 208:

“Completed in 1942, The North Chapel Building featured leaded glass windows representing the 41 different training schools on site and one window representing the recruit. As the recruits at the Naval Training Center practiced many different religions, different services for all religions were offered. There was a Priest, a Rabbi, a Baptist Minister and so on that would conduct the services. Weddings for senior officers were held in the chapel as well. The Corky McMillin Companies is proud to preserve the history of NTC”

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Adaptive reuse of old buildings has been an ongoing reality for decades. Move on, there's nothing to see there. There are too many church buildings out there already.

I hope you're being sarcastic. The article makes clear not only that this church is of unique historic value, but already has been successfully adapted for reuse. (In developer-speak, the term "underutilized" simply means not making as much money as possible, not that it is losing money.)

The only reason McMillin is looking to break their agreement is that they think they can get just a bit more money than they are now. And if that's the only criterion that matters, then let's just pack it in and hand over the keys to the city directly to the developers, since our elected officials are so "underutilized."

No sarcasm meant. It hasn't been adapted for reuse, as it's still an old chapel. Historic preservation is important in some cases. In other situations, it is not (like the California Theatre). Although I see the word "historic" used, has it ever actually been declared a Historic Site by the City, State of California or the federal government? I Googled, and couldn't find. A "marker" doesn't make any building officially "Historic." Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Bosco Mission can find new locations, just like any religious groups.

There is a "National Historic Register". The North Chapel is listed in the register, so it HAS been declared an historic site by the federal government. The State of CA recognizes federal historic buildings as historic also. The deed to the city, clearly states that all successors in interest must abide by the guidelines set forth. It is a covenant that runs with the land. The historic register specifically lists many aspects of the interior of the Chapel as well, including the pews. Regardless of your views on religion, I'm sure you will agree that even developers have to follow the law. McMillan was GIVEN this property for FREE. They agreed to follow the guidelines, and they clearly are NOT. The Chapel has ALWAYS been used as a chapel, i.e. mostly just on sundays. So it a nonsense to say that the chapel is under-utilized.

Yes, in fact the entire station is on the National Register of Historic Places. Which is why great care has to be taken with whatever is done to the buildings. Further, this chapel and the HQ building are the only structures that were set aside for preservation as originally intended (in the NTC Master Plan approved by the city council on 10/3/2000) to ensure the site's historical significance into the future.

McMillin has shamelessly defrauded the public from the beginning on this project. So it's really saying something when they can find a new way to shock us with their naked greed. But this plan to desecrate the last sacred ground left at NTC manages to do it.

It's only a matter of opinion if a chapel on a former Navy base is "sacred ground." That's a religious belief, not a fact. Not being a Christian, I find nothing valid about that term. But yes, I'm ex-military and support our armed forces, but I also strongly believe in separation of church and state.

Ah, so it appears that all this talk of economic viability and historic significance is simply a smokescreen for your personal anticlerical beliefs. I'm sorry if you're willing to use your prejudice to side with a sleazy developer in breaking the terms of their legal agreements, but at least now I know I needn't waste time considering your objections objective.

I'm not in any way religious, but I believe a person should be as free to embrace a superstition as I am to reject it. Yet I have been to this chapel three times: twice for secular musical performances and once for a nondenominational wedding ceremony. But whether this structure is significant to me personally is irrelevant to its having a significance independent of my opinion.

Which is why, even though I don't agree with the churchly motive of the petitioners to preserve this chapel, I'm going to sign their petition, and encourage everyone who sees the big picture to sign it as well.

The Veterans Museum at Balboa Park was the former San Diego Naval Hospital Chapel. That's an example of adaptive reuse. It is no longer a chapel. I don't know if religious people started a big fight back then to prevent that changed usage from happening. It certainly is a better use of the building.


by dwbat

One big difference: museums are nonprofits open to the public for some nominal fee. Restaurants are pay to play and it's likely that McMillin will be in on profit sharing.

On the other hand, if it were to become a restaurant, this would assure that the building will be maintained and treated with respect. It likely needs new electrical, plumbing and HVAC. More people would be able to see the improved building than with its current use, as it would be open most days of the week. I know little about Corky McMillin, but I see this as a win-win.

The building already had the electrical and plumbing redone. The chapel was restored 10 years ago.

Of course! Because everyone eating there will be seated in the meticulously restored hand-carved pews, with no tables in front of them, just happy to know they're sitting in a place specifically built to honor the dead of Pearl Harbor. Nice try guessing that this property has deferred maintenance that only destroying it will solve; but sadly for you, there's no structural reason to justify your animus.

But most of all, thank you for finally admitting you "know little" about this issue you continue to pontificate about with such certitude.

I worked once with a preservation group in the historic Spring Street district in downtown LA, so I know more than you think. Poo on pews; they don't matter. Of course there would be tables. It's a different use! It's the overall building we're talking about. Historic preservation does not mean you save every single item in the structure, including the bathroom toilet paper holders. Yikes, what a specious argument. [Look it up.] P.S. We honor the dead of Pearl Harbor in Pearl Harbor. That is the place to visit, not this little church.

"Specious" is you trying to argue ex cathedra.

Helpful hint: look up straw man argument before your next comment. You're embarrassing yourself.

This whole brouhaha is a tempest in a teapot. I think the building will make an awesome restaurant venue, and with the right chef/owner will likely be a huge success. Your opinion may vary.

That's not only an admission that you haven't offered any facts to back up your "opinion," but a request that we overlook that failing and agree with you anyway.

I don't know what nuns rapped your knuckles but, damn, quit trying to take it out on a legitimate historic landmark.

Your comments are getting too silly. I'm not Catholic, obviously. Can't wait to eat at the new chapel restaurant. ;-)

Nothing is more silly than your "thumbs up" voting for your own comments.

Well, somebody has to vote in favor of my pithy remarks!

What is it that makes this place 'historic'? Did George Washington sleep there? Was it designed by Frank Lloyd Wright? Was it blessed by the Pope? Is it because 2,547,000 recruits were forced to spend a Sunday morning there?

OK, I can see the argument for the Mission Valley chapel, even though they are not the original structures, they resemble the ones that were built by indigent laborers very long ago. This North Chapel seems much newer and of a generic design, common across California.

Usually there is a reason for a 'historic' designation. And that is determined by important, scholarly people, hired by politicians and developers, who know more than ordinary citizens. Alas, I am not qualified.

It was FDR who slept there, not George! ;-) And it was designed by Frank's cousin, Fred Lloyd Wrong [the black sheep of the family, since he could do no Wright). No blessing by the Pope, but I heard a young Oral Roberts dropped by to earn a few bucks with a quick gig! Those things sure make it historic, in my book.

I wonder if there would be such an uproar if the building had been a Temple or a Mosque?

You are know the answer since you are raising a provocative question.

Religion, politics and McMillin’s boondoggle of the former NTC. All three topics elicit strong emotional responses.

if it was a temple or a mosque this never would have been proposed

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