SAN DIEGO — Recent storms accelerated the deterioration of Christ the King Church’s bell tower, and it had to be demolished.
The pastor, Father Tommie “T.J.” Jennings, was alerted by a staffer in early December that the cupola atop the 60-foot bell tower was noticeably tilting away from the 75-year-old church.
A general contractor, Grace Builders, Inc., inspected the damage Dec. 27 and determined that the cupola was about 4 inches out of plumb. The situation worsened and, with neighbors now voicing concern, the parish had the contractor return on Jan. 4; the cupola was an additional 3 inches out of plumb.
Another inspection on Jan. 6 revealed that the problem was not limited to the cupula; the entire tower was beyond repair.
“They went up in there and brought me a piece of wood, and it just crumbled in my hand,” Father Jennings said.
From Jan. 4 to Feb. 3, yellow caution tape restricted access to much of the area around the tower.
For parishioners’ safety, all parish Masses were relocated, beginning on Jan. 5. The 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass and weekday Masses moved to the parish hall, while the more heavily attended Spanish-language Sunday Masses were celebrated under canopies in the parking lot. The church reopened for Masses on Feb. 4.
Traffic on 32nd Street, between Commercial Street and Imperial Avenue, was shut down on Jan. 26 and 27 for the removal of the cupula, which was taken down Jan. 27 with a crane and boom lift.
“There were people with tears in their eyes when they saw the cupola being removed, because it’s so much a part of the identity of this area and this church,” Father Jennings said.
Demolition of the remaining tower took place from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.
The final cost, from the initial inspection of the cupola to the removal of all debris, is expected to be about $48,000.
Christ the King Parish plans to launch a capital campaign to fund the construction of a new bell tower, and it is continuing to raise money to pay off the demolition.
Father Jennings said that, according to estimates, the cost of a new tower will exceed $100,000.
In addition to the construction of the new tower, Phase 2 will also include repairs to the exterior of the office building, the floor of the parish hall and the courtyard, as well as a remodel of the restrooms.
Online donations at ctksandiego.org can be earmarked for “Tower Reconstruction.”
Amidst recent challenges, Father Jennings has maintained his sense of humor.
He recalled with a chuckle that, prior to the demolition, he had invited Cardinal Robert W. McElroy to visit “the Leaning Tower of CTK (Christ the King),” dubbing it “the eighth wonder of the world” and saying that he would charge $10 for admission.