Monday, July 24, 2017

Alice's restaurant

I love old churches.

On a trip to Oceanside, California earlier this year, our small group walked through Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, which was founded in 1798, Since it is the largest of the 21 missions in California, it is known as “the King of the Missions”. It has been close to ruin several times since it was first built, but it is now a beautifully restored and fully functional building.


As impressive as this building is, it is not the oldest church that I have been in, a distinction that belongs to Mission San Xavier del Bac, which was completed in 1770. Today, it has been beautifully restored, and masses are still celebrated there on a regular basis. It also happens to be located about 5 miles from our current home in Tucson.

If we ever get tot Germany, I’d like to retrace our daughter’s steps, since she actually got inside the cathedral in Cologne. Construction on this place started in 1248. If you would like to get a better idea of what is was like to build a structure like this a LOT of years ago, read “Pillars of the Earth”, by Ken Follett.

The July 23 edition of USA Today had an article about the “repurposing” of some of the old churches in our country. Sadly, at least a few of them have been razed to become a Walmart, but most of them have fared better than that. The most expensive example of repurposing is a condo development in Washington, D.C. known as The Sanctuary, where individual units sell for as much as $1,000,000.

The best known repurposed church (at least to us baby boomers) is a church that was built in 1829 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The original name was St. James Chapel, but in 1866, it was enlarged and renamed Trinity Church. At some point in time it was deconsecrated, and in 1964, it was purchased by Alice and Ray Brock, who converted it to their private home. In 1965, they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the place, and one of their guests was a young man named Arlo Guthrie, who they had met due to their mutual connection to the art-oriented Stockbridge School. After dinner, Arlo and few other guests offered to take out the garbage – and that’s when things got interesting.

I’ve actually been to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (the scene of the crime), and I have seen both the former church that the Brocks bought (now the Guthrie center) and the local police station, where officer Obie used to work. I have even been to Alice’s first restaurant, which was located directly below the studios of Norman Rockwell.

Arlo Guthrie purchased the property in 1991, and converted it to the Guthrie Center, a non-denominational church. Every year at Thanksgiving, the center hosts a “Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat”, and the proceeds from the dinner are used to fight Huntington’s disease, the ailment that killed Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie.

Some of the church repurposing in our country has taken a more sinister side, since at least a dozen churches in America (including one in my old home town of Evanston) are purported to be haunted. Although the real officer Obie died in 1994, and his old chair sits inside the Guthrie Center, he has not made an appearance – so far.

If you ever find yourself in the Northeastern part of America on a road trip, and you’re feeling hungry, just remember this fact:

You can anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.

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