A Holy Home of History: An interview with Rev. Frances Lorenz

It’s a simple structure.

The small, single-story Craftsman-style building at the corner of North J Street and Division Avenue is home to the 150-member Center for Spiritual Living. But its age and connection to an iconic figure of Pacific Northwest history just might be enough to put it on the City of Tacoma’s register of historic places.

On May 28, the Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will hear from the church’s minister, Rev. Frances Lorenz, and Marshall McClintock, a local preservationist and North Slope Historic District board president, on whether the 99-year-old building should be added to the city’s historic register. Rev. Lorenz and McClintock completed the historic nomination application last month (see “Murray Morgan link could put North End church on city’s historic register,” Tacoma Daily Index, May 15, 2008).

According to information gathered by the pair, the late Murray Morgan — author of several books of Pacific Northwest history (most notably Skid Road, Puget’s Sound, and The Dam), and a prominent Tacoma native whose namesake bridge crosses Thea Foss Waterway — was a regular parishioner. Morgan’s father, Henry, was a minister at the church for 40 years. Murray Morgan’s wife, Rosa, taught Sunday school there. And the Morgans were married in the church.

The Tacoma Daily Index recently met Rev. Lorenz to discuss the building’s history and the church’s desire to put its house of worship on the city’s historic register.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: How did the idea originally arise to apply to put the church building on the city’s historic register?

REV. FRANCES LORENZ: It’s actually been in our minds for some time. But we didn’t have the impetus to take the steps — or even know–how to do it — until I met Marshall [McClintock]. I think he dropped by just to say hello. In the course of our talking together, we started sharing the history of the building. He was fascinated by it. He told me that he would be happy to help me. He said there was a process involved and he knew how to do it. He would help us formulate things and work with us on putting together a proposal.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: How long ago was that?

REV. LORENZ: I think it was about a year ago from when we first started talking. I moved kind of slow because I had to go through the process of getting the church’s board onboard in terms of doing this. We had an early centennial celebration in 2004. At that time, I had done a lot of research on the history. We actually had most of what we needed for the application done about four years ago for the centennial.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: What is the motivation for putting the building on the register?

REV. LORENZ: I think the motivation is that we highly regard the historical significance of this building. It’s quite interesting. This is where the historian of the Pacific Northwest, Murray Morgan, his father was minister here for 40 years. It was really about getting it identified as a historic place. Putting the building on the historic register would enable us to get more information out about the church’s history.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: What is that history?

REV. LORENZ: There’s an interesting history of how three different denominations have been here. It started out as a gift from Charles Wright. He made a gift to the Universalist Church of the parcel of land where Subway is now located. I think that was done in 1892. They built a church there, and then outgrew the space. They decided they wanted to trade for another parcel of land, which was this parcel. The church later dissolved and a woman, Rev. [Abbie Ellsworth] Danforth, came out and helped reorganize the church. She called on Rev. [William D.] Buchanan. He was quite a colorful figure. He went to school with the poet Carl Sandburg. He used to bring Carl out. The building was kind of formulated in 1904, and finished in 1909. In the meantime, the church ran out of money and they had to scale back the original design. Originally, it was designed to have a tower, and went all the way out to the sidewalk. It was quite a bit larger. Then they called Murray Morgan’s father — Henry Victor Morgan. Murray Morgan was married here. His wife, Rosa, is still alive, and she taught Sunday school here.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: Do you think church members today are aware of the building’s history?

REV. LORENZ: I think they certainly recognize it. They love to comment on the architecture and all the wood. It has an energy to it. I think all the years of work have made it a special place.

Rev. Frances Lorenz at the Center for Spiritual Living would like to see her congregation's building added to Tacoma's historic register (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)
Rev. Frances Lorenz at the Center for Spiritual Living would like to see her congregation’s building added to Tacoma’s historic register (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the historic Center for Spiritual Living building, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.