Addition to historic church is proposed

July 10, 2003 11:00 pm

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Officials at St. James Episcopal Church are hoping to build a wheelchair-accessible addition onto one of Sonora's most recognizable landmarks.

The wheelchair-friendly entrance would be located near the rear of the chapel of the building commonly known as the Red Church.

The addition is necessary as the congregation ages and some parishioners require wheelchairs, said the Rev. Wolfgang Krismanits.

In planning the addition, the church tried to balance accessibility needs with the historic nature of the building, he said. Building the addition near the back will help.

But other than those who use it, most people won't even know the addition is there.

"You can't even see it from the front," Krismanits said.

The Sonora Planning Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on the addition. City Community Development Director Ed Wyllie has recommended approving the changes.

A city building permit would be required before construction could begin. Church officials are hoping for a summer start date, Krismanits said.

In his report to the commission, Wyllie said city officials considered the plan the least intrusive way to meet federal and state accessibility laws while protecting the historic value of the building.

The addition would include an open porch with two archways and an enclosed entrance. It will require moving a portion of the chapel's wall 8 feet back, Krismanits said.

"When it is all said and done, it is going to be beautiful," he said.

New wheelchair-accessible walkways also would be built.

The Red Church is the oldest Episcopal church building in the state, with the first services held Oct. 4, 1859, according to the California Office of Historic Preservation.

Because of its importance, the Tuolumne County Historical Society expressed concern over the changes.