The North Chapel at Liberty Station will be renovated by 828 Venue Management Co. Photo courtesy of 828 Venue Management Co.

The North Chapel at Liberty Station will be renovated by 828 Venue Management Co. Photo courtesy of 828 Venue Management Co.

The historic North Chapel in Liberty Station would be renovated as a venue for weddings and other events under a tentative plan by the company that leased the property in 2018.

The company, 828 Venue Management Co., and the architectural firm that designed the renovation, Bennett & Associates, won’t say much about it until their plan passes city review.

828 Venue Management also declined to say how much the renovation would cost.

The plan has passed muster with the National Park Service and the California State Office of Historic Preservation, according to 828 Venue Management.

Pews at Center of Plans

As outlined in documents submitted to the city Dec. 10, the renovation would include the removal of pews to give more open space inside the chapel.

Exterior changes would include adding a concrete ramp on the south side of the chapel to make the building ADA accessible and adding a terrace to the north side of the building.

“This has been a process that was informed by community reaction and input. We believe that understanding everything we have presented so far will create comfort that the historic integrity of the North Chapel will be maintained,” 828 Venue Management CEO Tim Wirick said in an email.

“At the same time, the adaptive reuse will result in a community asset. The asset will create synergies with all of Liberty Station and will truly benefit the community for generations to come,” Wirick said.

Removing the pews is a sticking point among some critics, who want the chapel to retain its primary use as a place of worship.

World War II Roots

The North Chapel was built in 1942 on what was then the Naval Training Center San Diego as a nondenominational chapel for recruits, officers and those aboard military ships visiting or stationed in San Diego. Weddings for senior officers also were conducted in the chapel.

The property is owned by Pendulum Property Partners of Irvine, which acquired much of Liberty Station from the McMillin Co. in 2018.

Because of the chapel’s designation as historically significant, developers are limited in what they can do to it.

The Point Loma Association in a Dec. 14 statement issued by Chairman Clark Anthony Burlingame, said the association was disappointed that federal and state officials had gone along with the plan by 828 Venue Management to remove pews, among other changes.

Nevertheless, Burlingame said the plan proposed by 828 Venue Management “may be the best possible outcome.”

‘Reserving Judgement’

“We’re reserving judgement on thistransformation pending further details,” Burlingame said. “It will not satisfy chapel purists. But people believing the venue could continue underperforming for its owners and remain our community treasure out of the goodness of their corporate hearts are expecting a miracle that only happens in holiday movies.”

Among those supporting Venue Management’s plan is Mark Stevens, executive pastor and COO of Rock Church, a neighbor to the chapel at 2277 Rosecrans St.

“They’re going to still allow some church uses, at least for the weddings and those kinds of things. Today, the way church facilities are, it makes sense to have multiple uses,” Stevens said, adding that removing pews makes that possible.

“It makes sense to us,” Stevens said. “We got rid of pews a long time ago at the Rock Church for the same reason. You can’t really utilize buildings when there are pews attached to the floors.”

Adding an outdoor terrace “gives it a little more utilization for what they want to do,” Stevens added.

For now, the pews remain intact within the chapel and nothing will be done with them until the city approves the plans, according to 828 Venue Management.

Setting the Tone With BRICK

If the city gives the OK, 20 of the pews will remain at the chapel and the remaining 37 will be stored offsite.

Wirick said that renovation plan proposed by 828 and Bennett & Associates architects “has been deemed consistent” with federal and state agency requirements for renovating historic structures.

“Anything historically significant will remain intact,” Wirick said, including a plaque that outlines the chapel’s history.

In addition to the North Chapel, Venue 828 since 2014 has operated BRICK, a former Navy warehouse at Liberty Station that was renovated as a wedding and event site.

“828 is an experienced operator that specializes in creating beautiful and unique venues for weddings, corporate and private events by awakening historic properties that feature charm, character and unlimited creative options,” Wirick said.

“CHAPEL offers the best of both worlds — integrity to the building’s history as a place of worship and important life events, and renovation to become a vital venue for generations to come,” Wirick said. “Keep in mind that both 828 Venue Management and Bennett & Associates have proven expertise in, and experience with turning historic buildings into unique, thriving and in-demand venues.”