A rotting Catholic church built around the time FDR was president is coming down in Hooper Bay, but its storied history won't soon be forgotten.
Built above an ancient Yup'ik grave where bones still surface, the two-story church might be the oldest building in the Western Alaska village of Hooper Bay, residents say.
Based on a black-and-white photo and stories, its doors likely opened sometime before 1940, said the Rev. Gregg Wood, priest of the Little Flower of Jesus Church.
Services moved to a smaller building nearby in 1970, but the big old building still played a vital role in the village of 1,200, serving as a community center for years until the foundation weakened.
In the last 10 years, it housed a visiting Bible group in summers and served as command center for emergency officials responding to a 2006 fire that swept through a chunk of the village.
The fire stopped about 400 feet short of the church thanks to providential weather - there was no wind that day, Wood said.
But church engineers decided this year to condemn the building. Now it's mainly a storage area for old books and church files, said Wood, who shovels snow off the roof and sometimes shoos children away.
The building's current state - plywood sheets cover windows and foundation beams are rotting - belie its once proud appearance. In its prime, large windows adorned the façade, and a roof belfry rang out to the Yup'ik faithful.
Historical photos show it was built with self-sufficiency in mind. A windmill may have powered lights, Wood said. A basement cistern that's still there today collected rainwater that was piped to a sink in the kitchen.
"It looked real awesome from the outside, it was impressive, one of the biggest buildings in town," said Elmer Simon, who lives near the church. He and other altar boys served Mass in Latin there in the 1960s but had no idea what they were saying.
"It used to be very packed during those days," Simon said. "I have a lot of fond memories of that old church."
Wood said he plans to talk with parishioners about plans to dismantle the old building.
Pieces will be used to help build a new building near the old one for religious education and parish gatherings, he said.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.