Tulare UMC Celebrates Sanctuary 100th Year

June 03, 2013

By Gerry Soults

The public is invited to attend an open house with docent led tours of the sanctuary of Tulare United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 29, from 3 to 6 p.m. The church is located at 228 West Kern, Tulare, Calif. 93274. For more information, call (559) 686-8523, or e-mail tulareumc@sbcglobal.net.  
In 1880 when Tulare was only eight years old, a small group of Methodists arrived in Tulare and began to hold their meetings in a room adjoining a bar on the ground floor of the Lake House owned by D. W. Madden, one of the founding fathers of the Tulare church. The hotel was located at the corner of Tulare Avenue and K. Street. In 1883 a wood-framed sanctuary was built at the corner of Kern Avenue and G Street, called the First Methodist Episcopal Church. Struggling through a severe depression in the early 1900's, and compounded in Tulare by the failure of the infamous irrigation bonds, and the abandonment of the Southern Pacific Railroad to move to Bakersfield, gave insight as to the state of problems that were besetting the early church.
By 1911, a committee of five secured plans for a new church and was authorized to solicit subscribers to raise $15,000 for the building. The committee agreed that the sum of $12,000 be reached before the building would be started. After the dedication ceremony a report filed in November 1913, gave a total cost for the sanctuary of $30,000. There were numerous references of plans for financing the debt but records indicate the five original members were obligated to sign personal notes with a local bank for the amount needed to meet the deficit. 
Records say nothing about the actual building progress other than a legend concerning the construction of the roof. It seems the builders had finished the walls and were puzzled how to build the planned octagonal roof over the sanctuary. According to the story, a man passing through by train noticed the problem, stayed a couple of weeks until the roof was finished, and then left on the next train…an angel with a degree in engineering. No information was given as to the type of exterior brick used in building the sanctuary. The basement walls show the use of red brick for the foundation that extends up to the mezzanine level. One can only assume that the brick was made on site or perhaps transported in by train. The decorative white brick used for the exterior was popular in constructing large buildings in the 1900's. It is virtually maintenance free, will not burn, is energy efficient, and effective as a sound barrier.
It was a very hot Sunday, June 29, 1913, when the church was dedicated. It soon became more than just a worship center for Methodists. The auditorium was the largest in Tulare and for many years served as a site for community and school affairs. The basement area doubled as a social area for meetings, dinners, parties, and spaces were screened off and divided into areas for classrooms. Of constant pleasure to the worshiper are the beautiful stained glass windows, given as memorials, which enhance the l00 year old building.  
At the dedication of the organ on June 12, 1921, cheers greeted the announcement that philanthropist, George Swall, had given the magnificent Austin pipe organ in memory of his parents, William and Emma Swall. Previously, chairs from the old church were in use until the women's societies could raise the money to install new wood pews for the sanctuary. In the mid 1920's quality motion pictures were shown one night a month. 
Several years later special receiving boxes were installed in the homes of shut-in members by the telephone company so that sermons could be transmitted to their homes. The church altar was made from discarded mahogany packing cases from the Philippines that had been found at the old Tulare Southern Pacific train depot in 1956. Mr. James O. Husong, took the wood and designed the hand carved the altar. His original tracing for the decorative wood pieces were found in the Archive Room of the church. Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Loomer donated an amplifying system for the organ chimes in honor of their son, Vernon, who was lost in naval action near Java in 1942. A beautiful thirteen bulb brass chandelier is anchored to the roof medallion that hangs from the sanctuary ceiling. In 1986 a winch was installed making it possible to raise and lower it electronically.
A physical change to the building took place in 1963 when construction was completed for the reconstruction of the "G" Street entry in preparation for the fiftieth anniversary of the structure. The work included making a west narthex with the addition of a beautiful stained glass window, an indoor stairs to the basement and entry ramp for wheelchairs. In the Archive Room old ledgers show the listing of members and their pledges from the year 1920. The bookcases have unique stained glass designs as well as all church windows at street level. 
Our future is now placed in the hands of those who will faithfully carry on the next one hundred years. A Centennial Book has been published and dedicated to the memory of our Methodist Pioneers who persevered to inspire the lives of others in our church and community. Our future is now placed in the hands of those who will faithfully carry on the next one hundred years.