Annette and Frank Bannon, longtime Gig Harbor residents and champions of St. Nicholas Church. Photo by Joshua Bessex.

By Annette Spadoni Bannon

The first European settlers of Gig Harbor were Croatian-born fishermen, who were predominantly Catholic. Construction of a Roman Catholic church was an early and important goal of the community. The money to build the church was raised through donations from fishermen, the canneries, and fishermen’s supply houses. The newly built church celebrated its first Mass on Easter in 1914. Situated on the hillside overlooking the harbor, the old church building has a prominent architectural presence. It is the only intact historic church left in the city, and it has had a strong association with area residents.

In 1958, the parish added a new church building to accommodate the growing community. The historic church was threatened with demolition to add parking space in the 1970s and again in 2012 when it was closed abruptly due to mold found in a closet beneath the front cement stairs. In the absence of clear communication about the fate of the historic church, there was fear that demolition was being considered as a possible course of action.

A nomination was made to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of Most Endangered Places with the help of the Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Gig Harbor, and the church was listed in 2013. With the growth of Gig Harbor and the parish over the few years, it became clear that our parish needed to rebuild, restore, and reunite. New parish administration was supportive and wanted to reopen the church for parish use, youth groups, classes, and other community meetings.

Window boards were removed, the building’s exterior was professionally painted, and interior work began. Mold abatement and addressing water intrusion was accomplished. A new furnace and water heater were installed. Fresh paint and new flooring prepared for reopening on January 26, 2020, with a public open house and blessing by Father Mark Guzman. Youth group education in the main hall began that very evening, and the parish St. Vincent DePaul food bank ministry has moved into a basement room. St. Nicholas School has started using
the building as well.

The project continues—we are expecting a new roof to be installed in June, and we are working to restore historic elements to the church building, including the original metal bell tower cross now on display in a glassed case and photos of original fishermen who first donated funds to make the church a reality.

For information on some of our other Most Endangered Places and the ongoing fight to save them, visit our Most Endangered Places page.

Restoration work in progress!

The restored St. Nicholas Church in Gig Harbor.