Saint Rose of Lima Church
Historic Building Restored and Dedicated
on May 18
Mariachi music from Mariachi Halcones De Jalisco filled the park, while Mexican Folkloric Dancers Elvira and Veronica twirled and swayed on stage. Guests feasted on taquitos, flautas, quesadillas, along with chips, salsa and secret recipe bean dip provided by Mission Burrito Restaurant in Simi Valley.
More than 200 guests spent late Friday afternoon celebrating the completed restoration and dedication of the former St. Rose of Lima Church building now located at Strathearn Historical Park in Simi Valley.
So, one may ask, 'why is this dedication so important?' Well, the answer is simple and complex. This building is an important part of the history of Simi Valley, and here's why:
In the 1700's and 1800's, when people move to an unsettled area and created farms, ranches, a general store and such, they staked out their piece of the American dream. Typically, people worked hard, really hard to build a home, prepare their fields for crops and provide for their families. The work was difficult, the hours were long, and the lifestyle could be quite isolating.
Once a church was established in a town, it became a gathering place for the people from many miles surrounding the church site. Often, the church served as a place for religious services, town meetings, picnics, and any gathering that brought people together. It helped create a sense of community.
The little church that was dedicated on May 18, 2007, is just such a building. Originally conceived by a Presbyterian minister in 1898, he set about gathering support from locals to build a church. On August 10, 1902, the first house of worship in Simi Valley was dedicated as the Simi Valley Presbyterian Church of Simi, California.
The building featured varnished redwood and Oregon pine, brass fixtures, windows of Rolled Cathedral glass, and folding chairs with seating for the eleven church members. After a few years, the cost of maintaining the church became too difficult for the small group to manage, so the beloved church was closed, with the members joining the Methodists who met in a local home.
In 1910, the building became a mission of the Catholic Church in Oxnard. In 1921, the church officially became the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church with a small congregation numbering 20 families. As the congregation grew over 52 years, it was the site of many baptisms, confirmations, weddings and more. Early arrivals to the small church sat inside, while others stood and listened outside. By 1964, when the parishioners moved to their new church on Royal Avenue, 1,500 families were attending mass. The little church was de-commissioned by the Catholics; now no longer a church.
After the Catholics relocated, various groups utilized the building for short periods of time. Eventually, the Baņaga family purchased the property, including the church building. In early 2002, the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District purchased the building and moved it to Strathearn Historical Park and Museum, placing is alongside other buildings of historical significance in Simi Valley.
The original church land was donated by Thomas Bard and the cost to build the church, according to a news article at the time of the 1902 dedication, was $1,862.00. The cost to purchase and restore the building is estimated at $200,000.00. Funds contributed to the project came from the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, Simi Valley Historical Society, City of Simi Valley, Knights of Columbus Council 5803, and from the sale of bricks to people who names were placed on the bricks that were then installed in the patio area next to the church building. Space for more bricks is still available for public purchase by contacting (805) 584-4453.
The building has been restored to its original luster. The floors, walls and ceiling are stained and varnished. New fixtures have been installed and a new roof and paint were added. A spectacular stained glass window was completed just in time for the dedication ceremony and adds color and brilliance to the project. During the dedication event, the church was set up as if a wedding were to be held. White chairs, a podium, and flowers by Unique Floral Designs created the ambience.
The District plans to allow small weddings inside the church and will be creating a rental fee schedule soon. Inquiries about weddings in the church, the gazebo area or the rose garden, all located at Strathearn Park, should be directed to the park district at (805) 584-4400.
During the dedication event, Park District Board Chair, Kate O'Brien, served as the MC with welcoming remarks and introduction of dignitaries in the audience. Some of those present included: County Supervisor Peter Foy; City of Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller, along with council members Barbra Williamson and Michelle Foster; Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District Board Members Elaine Freeman, Mark Johnson and Gene Hostetler; Father Michael Carcerano from St. Rose of Lima Church, Karla Hubbell and others from the board of directors of the Simi Valley Historical Society; Bruce and Zona Strathearn; Pat Havens, City Historian; members of the board from the Knights of Columbus and more. It was a who's who event for the community.
Many of these people spoke of the importance of restoring this valuable part of Simi Valley's history, and presented plaques and resolutions to the Park District and the Simi Valley Historical Society. Additionally, Congressman Elton Gallegly sent a certificate for Pat Havens for her tireless efforts on behalf of preserving the community's history.
The end result of all of this work is that the historic park acquisitions have increased and the value of everyone's hard work has brought something special to the citizens of Simi Valley. Now, when visitors come to the park they can see the outside and inside of the adobe structure, the Victorian home that the Strathearn family built, antiques that fill the buildings, the original permanent Simi Valley Public Library, a colony house, two Wood Ranch barns, the apricot pitting shed from the Currier ranch, the visitor's center/museum and the first church ever built in Simi Valley. Also, the most recent acquisition is the Baņaga barbershop which will undergo restoration later.
The result is that, with all of these buildings, we now have a small town located on five acres. Instead of just reading about Simi's history or looking at photos, visitors can step back in time and feel the history surrounding them. They can look at antique home furnishings, tools, and farm equipment. They can purchase a book about the history of the community to further understand who we are and how we got to where we are now. The book is available at the Strathearn Park Visitor's Center, 137 Strathearn Place, Simi Valley and at the Border's Book store located at Tapo Canyon Road and Alamo Street in Simi Valley.
For those interested, the park is open for guided tours on Saturday
and Sunday from 1-4 pm. The tour costs less than $5 per person and is
well worth many times that price. My recommendation would be to allow at
least two hours so you have time for the guided tour, then time to walk
around the park seeing the things that were of most interest to you.
There are tours during the week on a few days at 1:00 pm. Call the park
at (805) 526-6453 or see the park's website at
www.simihistory.com for more information. Special group tours may be
arranged by contacting the park by telephone.