SEVERAL PEOPLE RECOGNIZED the October Picture from the Past as the old Methodist Church on Sequim Avenue and Fir Street.
The photo was taken sometime in the 1930s or ’40s.
Norman Gallacci and Ron Bradshaw thought it was the Sequim Presbyterian Church on Third and Washington streets.
Margie Jaedicke wrote that the photo was Trinity United Methodist Church in Sequim.
She said the church was built in 1929. It was sold to the Boys & Girls Club in 1990 and then to Olympic Theatre Arts.
OTA did extensive remodeling to accommodate their needs.
Lynn Kastner said she is new to the area but believes the photo to be the OTA on North Sequim Avenue.
In 1889, the first Methodist Church was started in the Dungeness Valley with 11 members.
By 1895, they moved to Sequim due to a shifting population and became known as the Methodist Community Church.
They dismantled the original framework and took it to a new site on Sequim Avenue where they rebuilt their church.
The bell from the first church, which had come around the Horn of Africa, also was relocated.
Social life centered around the church, but by 1925, they had outgrown their space again.
Judy Reandeau Stipe wrote that in 1928, a new church was erected at a cost of $17,500 that came from seven families who had mortgaged their homes to provide funding.
At one time, the minister had living quarters on the second story.
When soldiers were stationed in Sequim after Pearl Harbor, a USO was opened in the social hall for a place to gather and serve food to the young men so far from home.
The cornerstone of the church was laid March 13, 1929.
In 1968, members changed the name to Trinity United Methodist Church and in December 1991 moved again to new and larger quarters on Blake Avenue, where they remain today.
Mary Bell commented that when she and her husband, Delane, arrived in Sequim in 1960, there was only a blinking light at Sequim Avenue and Washington Street.
Trinity United Methodist Church was in the heart of Sequim, and it occupied a major part of their family life.
The minister was Bruce Groseclose and his wife was Mildred.
Later, Elmer Bigham became minister, and he and his wife, Marge, were great assets to the church family and the community for several years.
Bell said all of her children were confirmed and baptized there, and received church scholarships for college.
One of the highlights of the youth activities she remembered was a Halloween party where Karl Hatton’s dad secretly glued fur and hair on his hands and arms.
“When we encountered those hands in a pitch dark room we were scared out of our wits,” she wrote.
The church on Blake Avenue continues to be a large influence in the Sequim community.
The oldest social event in the community is the church’s Harvest Home Dinner, begun by the Methodist Ladies Aid Society.
In 1980, a small group headed by Richard Waites decided to stage a play at the Dungeness Schoolhouse.
After the play, Waites asked those interested in founding a Sequim community theater to stay.
That was the beginning of Olympic Theatre Arts.
Olivia Shea, who was one of those who remained, is still directing for OTA as of this writing.
Waites has since moved away from Sequim but continues to be active in the organization.
The group rented and renovated the Odd Fellows Hall located at 132½ W. Washington St. on the second floor above a retail store.
The Howard Woods family owned the building and gave a generous donation to OTA, which was able to install a stage with theater seating, a lighting booth and dressing rooms.
The facility was named the Howard Wood Memorial Theatre and opened in 1983 with a Neil Simon play.
In 1996, Sequim city officials released a plan for future growth and development of Sequim, and the No. 1 need in that plan was for a ground-level performing arts center.
Stairs not safe
The 23-step climb to the second floor was no longer safe.
OTA began a search for a new building for its theater.
In 2001, the Sequim Boys & Girls Club announced it was selling its building, the former Trinity United Methodist Church, in favor of a new building it was planning.
Elaine Caldwell, OTA board chair at the time, solicited funds to make a down payment on the Sequim Avenue building and in one day raised $25,000.
It took several years to raise enough money to purchase the building and renovate it to bring the 70-year-old building up to current building codes.
The community was involved in the process, which saw donations and help of labor and materials from Rotary Club and Carpenters for Christ.
2010 grand opening
The grand opening was held in 2010 with a production of “Cabaret,” directed by Larry Harwood, with a cast of 37.
Presently, Olympic Theatre Arts continues to provide theater with nine shows per season and has opened the center to such groups as Clallam Mosaic and Olympic Peninsula Men’s Chorus.
Michael Aldrich wrote, “So, going back through the cobwebs in my mind about the old church/boys and girls club, I can recall my first impression was ‘There’s so much to do here to make it a theater venue.’
“The area now called the Gathering Hall was just one large room with an elevated stage, no real exits for actors off stage, and it had a built-in area, like a vestibule, upstage center that as actors we had to work around for our blocking; acoustics were terrible.
“The building was heated by an antiquated oil tank system which was replaced early in the remodeling.
“Old beat-up wooden floors were throughout, as the area was part of the basketball court from the boys and girls club era.”
“It took additional years to finally create the space OTA calls home, and we made do on the old stage area, where people once worshiped, then children played basketball, and we actors got to play; thanks to the many hours of construction and fundraising efforts by the local Kiwanis club,” he wrote.
“Now, the Gathering Hall has many different community uses and the actors were able to put on some great shows while the main hall was being built.”
Elaine and Bob Caldwell wrote and confirmed many of the facts contained in this column.
She was president of OTA for many years and actively campaigned for the theater and raised many funds.
She has many stories about the place and said that beneath the building are tree stumps from the pre-existing farm.
Caldwell related that the old pastor’s quarters are now the costume area, while props are stored in the basement.
The old sanctuary is now the Gathering Hall for receptions and can be rented for local events.
The new Caldwell Main Stage seats 162 patrons in a beautifully intimate theater setting.
The woodworking shop is on the west side of the stage, while the dressing rooms are on the east.
The building is ADA-accessible.
There is a donor board that is displayed at the old oak doors that were a part of the 1929 original building.
The Olympic Theatre Arts center continues to provide a home for many activities and is a great place to see a live show.
Alice Alexander is a Clallam County historian, author and a descendent of an Elwha Valley pioneer family. She is a recipient of a 2014 Clallam County Heritage Awards. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month, alternating with Linnea Patrick’s Jefferson County history column on the third Sunday of the month.