St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church lives in a beautiful place of worship that’s stood in Chico for over 110 years. Its history holds three owners, varied purposes, and hopes for the future. Inside, it is a solid, quiet haven in the midst of a bustling city.
Originally constructed at 5th and Broadway in downtown Chico for St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, at the site of the current post office, this beautiful church by architect Arthur B. Benton, has been described as one of the most distinguished 19th century churches in northern California. Built of wood, with brick facing and shingle siding, it gives the effect of a small 13th century English country parish church. The history of this building tells a tale of the faithfulness of a people following in the traditions of the Anglican Church in America.
The Rev. Lewis Morris Wilkins, rector of St. John the Evangelist, who arrived on March 31, 1901, began an active campaign to build a church on the site. The first building committee reads like a page from Chico’s history: Judge L. G. Faulkner, T. N. Crew, John Daly, Henry Eames, A. L. Nichols, J. H. Sawtele, Dr. Oscar Stansbury, Charles Stilson, and John G. Wannop. After looking at plans for a stone church-but finding that option much too expensive-the current wood-framed design was chosen and a contract drawn for its construction at a cost of $5,200. Ground was broken on February 1, 1904, and the building was completed in that year. The church’s first service was on The Feast of the Circumcision, New Year’s Day, 1905. The building was moved to its present site at 3rd & Salem in 1912.
Registered as a historical building by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1981, it joins the Bidwell Mansion, Stansbury House, Gage Home and the California State University Romanesque revival buildings in the preservation of Chico’s architectural heritage.
In 1982, the building was sold to local restaurant owners, Bill and Amy Pang, who remodeled the building to create the Dynasty/Shell Cove complex, including Fuji Sushi and a boutique. The venture cost them around $2 million and was ultimately a failure. The bankrupt facility closed in 1991.
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church bought and restored the historic structure to its original use. Having bought the building out of foreclosure in 1994, St. Augustine’s has spent twenty years, and $1 million, to give Chico back one of its favorite downtown church buildings.