The Christian Science Society building at 1725 17th Street. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to purchase the Christian Science Society building on 17th Street for $600,000.
Built in 1943, the building formerly served as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Dormitory. The first WAC detachment arrived in Los Alamos on Aug. 24, 1943. Many of the women were involved in scientific research while others served as hospital technicians, clerks and secretaries. The detachment was deactivated on Oct. 19, 1946.
In the 1950s, Christian Scientists organized as a church in Los Alamos and later purchased the building. The church reorganized as a society in the 2000s.
Introducing the agenda item, County Manager Harry Burgess said the building has been preserved and looks very similar to how it looked back in the day. He said the first thing he saw when he walked in was the blueprints drawn by the War Department.
“We have discussed this in closed session just to get an idea and we’re bringing this before you now for formal action because subsequent to the closed session conversation, I pursued a potential agreement for the sale of the property which has now been put together. However it’s contingent on Council’s approval because I can’t commit the County for this expense so that’s the reason why it’s on the agenda this evening,” he said.
The basics of the deal, Burgess said, are that the price of the property would be $600,000.
“It’s a 20-bedroom dormitory with a common area. It’s approximately 5,000 square feet sitting on approximately an acre of land right in downtown Los Alamos about a block from the Little Theatre which was the former dining hall for the Manhattan era activities,” he said. “There are a few contingencies to this. One is that the church members themselves could continue to operate out of the building until March 2020 at no additional cost, however they would fund any utility costs during that timeframe. All their personal property is to be removed, however anything else such as church-specific property would remain such as that map which I would like to see preserved for interpretation of the facility in the future,” he said.
Burgess said the building is, as far as he knows, one of the last potential acquisitions of Manhattan era property in the community. If the County were to acquire it, he said obviously its ultimate use would need to be considered and there would be an opportunity to include it into the Manhattan Project Historical Park and its interpretation. He said a preliminary estimate by staff figured the building would cost some $2 million to bring up to current code.
The sale is expected to close at the end of the month and Burgess said a budget adjustment will be brought to Council before then so that the sale can be put in effect. The property has appraised for some $417,000 and the delta for the building is $185,000, Burgess told Council.
Elizabeth Martineau, executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society attended the meeting along with several officers and board members. Under public comment, Martineau said the Historical Society has had a long successful partnership with the County to preserve and protect and communicate the history of Los Alamos.
She described the former WAC Dorm as an authentic, rare find.
“Its location places it within the historic walking tour, which is accessible to the public, unlike some of the other properties we have behind the high-security fences so it’s in a prime location for telling our story. We feel that former WAC Dorm gives us a look back to a time that was crucial to our country and a glimpse at a way of life that was lived by young women who came to Los Alamos during World War II. These young women played an important part in the Manhattan Project and in doing so they played an important part in ending the war. We feel this is an opportunity that we really should not miss,” Martineau said.