Merced Church Named Historic Landmark

5/6/2008 Merced, CA After several months and many meetings, the council voted four to three in favor of naming the church a historic resource. But a recent decision by a superior court judge may overrule their move.

The Merced City Council narrowly approved a historic designation for the Central Presbyterian Church. The decision came after emotional pleas by those on both sides of the issue. Some argued the church should be protected because of its irreplaceable architecture and the meaning it holds for the community. One woman even broke down in tears saying, ""I just feel it would be a crime to tear the church down."

But others said protecting the building would hurt those who worship inside because it's too small and structurally unsound. "The church is wanting to expand, they can't do it within the walls they've got," said Dave Shuey.

The council heard more than an hour of discussion before making the long-awaited decision to protect the church.

"Obviously we're pleased the sanctuary building has been designated a historic resource which does provide some recognition and protection against needless destruction. It also opens the building to grants and other funding sources that can help protect the building in the long term," said church member Kenneth Mackie.

But the council's vote does not bring an end to the battle. Central Presbyterian filed a lawsuit against the city last week claiming it does not have the right to grant the 91-year old sanctuary historic status. The judge in the case told council members to vote on the issue, but also ordered a temporary restraining order that will allow the church to keep fighting their decision.

Attorney Ken Robbins said, "He stayed this action so even though they voted tonight, it's not in effect as such time when the judge rules on our motion for a preliminary injunction, which we expect will be granted."

The issue is will be back in front of a judge on May 29th. Both sides said they hope to reach a resolution soon, but they know there's a chance this could turn into a lengthy legal battle.

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