A windshield tour of Manteca’s churches reveals a hodge-podge of architectural forms.
Viewed against the afternoon sun, Northgate Community Brethren Church on Northgate Drive on the east side of the Tide water Bike Path shows a silhouette that reminds one of a giant bird soaring into the heavens, thanks to its sharp central roof that gently curves to its sharp peak.
The brown building on the southwest corner of North Main Street and East North Street near downtown is home to the Manteca Presbyterian Church. Its main point of attraction is the vertical structure that rises from the grassy area facing North Main, towering the building complex. It’s topped by a large cross, while on its west side near the top of the brick column is a tier of three large bells. These bells used to chime the hours of the day. While it’s now home of the Presbyterian Church, the building opened as the house of worship for the First Assembly of God. In the 1990s, First Assembly needed bigger quarters for its growing ministry and faithful members resulting in a move that took the church to Button Avenue where a modern and state-of-the-art place of worship was constructed along with a K-8 Manteca Christian School that has since folded. The church also has acquired a new name – Place of Refuge.
Two other imposing and sprawling state-of-the-art churches in Manteca were built within about the same time frame. These are the Calvary Community Church on East Lathrop Road just west of the Highway 99 Frontage Road, and the Christian Worship Center just about a skip and a hop north of Place of Refuge. The two churches have more than just architectural affinity. History diverged for them when Calvary Community – which was then known as Calvary Baptist – outgrew its old property on Button Avenue because of its increased membership. Calvary found plenty of room to grow at a previously vacant field where they built the huge building that is there now. The old Calvary property was eventually purchased by Christian Worship Center and built the huge church that today dominates the neighborhood. Even though the new building is huge, they did not take the wrecking ball to the old Calvary Baptist place of worship which looks like a small cottage next to its big and modern counterpart.
These three state-of-the-art modern buildings of worship have one thing in common that is not readily apparent from the outside. They all boast state-of-the-art theater-like auditoriums complete with the latest equipment for large stage performances.
Manteca also has what could be called an ultra modern church design. The Crossroads Grace Community Church along Highway 99 south of the 120 Bypass has architecture that is pretty basic and functional save for two things— a large two-story atrium and an exterior architectural touch that looks like big wings reminiscent of the main terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. It also includes a massive stone sphere etched as the world that is part of a fountain. When the water is flowing the sphere that weighs several tons will float and turn.
One Manteca church whose architecture shouts vintage is the St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, formerly St. Mary’s Episcopal Church located on the southeast corner of East Louise and Cottage avenues. The brown structure epitomizes simplicity on the outside. Inside is another matter, with the stained glass windows designed by former parishioners enhancing the spiritual beauty and ambience of this quiet church.
It’s almost the same story at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on East North Street, corner of Fremont Avenue. The only difference: the Catholic Church is several times larger. Inside, it’s also dominated by a main stained glass window above the choir loft which shows the image of the parish’s patron saint – St. Anthony of Padua. High above the walls on both sides of the church are equally large stained glass windows showing the images of different saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the day, these are best appreciated from inside. But at nighttime when the lights are on inside, the stained glass images stand out like consoling beacons in the darkness.
Barely two blocks east of St. Anthony of Padua on North Street is the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on the corner of Powers Avenue. It’s an imposing structure in its own right but is somewhat dwarfed by the expanse of green lawn around it especially when viewed from the street corner. It’s very simple architectural form is reminiscent of nostalgic places of worship of old. The first thing that grabs one’s attention is the soaring spire facing Powers Avenue. It was fabricated of “porcelainized” metal with a stainless steel cross. Its orange color, according to church information, signifies the Orangemen, an association of English Protestants.
The entire St. Paul’s building inside and out is full of symbolism. The ship in bas relief just below the spire above the main church entry is a ship which represents the church. The figure of Christ in the ship was the work of Pierre Menager, a sculptor from Santa Fe, Mexico. The architect of the church building was Reginald F. Inwood who not only supervised the construction project but planned all the interior furnishings and decorations as well.
The building itself was made of basalt blocks and roofed with Bermuda tile. If you happen to step inside the church, take a moment to admire the slate floor. That material was quarried in Vermont and then shipped to Manteca via the Panama Canal. Once inside the door, look up and admire the soaring arches above you which form the main body of the church. These large arches as well as the smaller ones up front are in the Gothic tradition. And while you are looking around, glance to your right and left to admire the stained glass windows which were all made of antique glass imported from Europe. All the tiles were handmade.
These architectural and décor highlights are not the only ones worthy of mention at St. Paul’s Church. In the back of the church between the sacristy and the church office is a cozy garden area called Biblical Garden. Representatives of plants mentioned in the Bible make up this spiritual Eden which can be admired from any of the metal benches scattered throughout the small area. In another enclosed area on the west side of the church is a labyrinth which can be used for various purposes: either as a place for meditation, prayer, outdoor worship service, and even for a wedding.