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Home, Sweet home

by: Vern Uyetake, Pete and Patsy Sweet converted Lake Oswego’s oldest remaining church into a safe haven for their family. Completed in 1889 as Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the building cost around $1,575. Now, after adding a two-car garage and master bedroom in the balcony above the kitchen, they say the joy the home brings them is priceless.

Situated on the corner of E Avenue and First Street in Lake Oswego's First Addition neighborhood is a building that pays tribute to early iron workers and city beginnings. On the outside, the white wooden rectangular building resembles a church - tall, pointed windows and a steeple. But inside, Pete and Patsy Sweet converted the secular space into their home and left original features that give the building its charm.

'It may look like a little country church but it has a lot of living space,' said Patsy Sweet of the 3,400-square-foot home. 'We actually use the whole space. Our grandchildren sleep in the choir loft.'

When shopping for a new house, the retired church featured tall ceilings for Pete - who is six foot six - and opportunities for renovations within. The couple said they had always thought about converting a barn, firehouse or schoolhouse into a home. They had the church blessed before any demolition took place.

Completed in 1889 as Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the building cost around $1,575 and some local historians say it was built by two Belgian brothers named Cropp, their father and a Mr. Bergis. Another version of the story is that Lucy Puylaert Pollard's father and some friends constructed the spiritual place. And real estate agents Smith and Watson donated the land, according to Oswego Heritage Council records.

Around the same time the Catholics were getting their first church, George Prosser - a storeowner, postmaster and state legislator - donated land on Stafford Road to build the Catholic cemetery, next to what is now the Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course.

Over the years, the church changed denominations - Foursquare Gospel being the last. A 725-pound bell was moved to Our Lady of the Lake Catholic church on A Avenue at Eighth Street in 1956. Sacred Heart's name changed to Our Lady of the Lake in 1950, according to the Oswego Heritage Council.

'Pete and I felt very strongly about keeping (the church's) integrity,' said Patsy. 'It's got good vibes.'

Converting a church

The belfry was recreated by architect H. Curtis Finch from former photographs for the Sweets and lifted into place using a crane.

'We realized the house wasn't going to be finished until we put the steeple back on,' said Patsy.

The front door opens to an oversized living room once lined with pews for mass each week. One narrow staircase leads up to the overhanging choir loft. Another staircase leads down to the former nursery and Sunday school area - now used as a home office, entertainment room and guest quarters.

The main room boasts abundant natural light from eight elongated windows.

'This house is wonderful in the morning. Actually, in the middle of the night cars go up and down the street and their headlights (shine) in and illuminate the whole (living) room,' said Patsy.

One step up leads to the living room to the kitchen, where an altar originally was.

'It's interesting to think about all the thousands of people that worshipped here over the years,' said Pete.

The couple said they worked to create architecture in the kitchen that resembled a historical altar but was a separate, functional space. Built-in shelving units and an oversized desk are centered within the kitchen and peek into the living room.

Next to the refrigerator, a lime green-andeggplant-colored breakfast nook uses space once used for priests to change into their vestments. The back wall of the kitchen was once originally the exterior wall of the church. The Sweets added on a double garage and loft area above the kitchen for their bedroom.

Life above the altar

A wide staircase leads to a new addition above the kitchen. Once upstairs, the space is self-contained with a luxurious bathroom, laundry facility and bedroom loft space with views of the living room below.

'How many people have their bedroom above an altar?' said Patsy.

In the bathroom, a Japanese soaking tub is the focal point, taking up most of the space and getting the most use.

'The bathtub holds 80 gallons of water and weighs 600 pounds without the water,' said Pete.

Pete, with the help of five others, rolled the bathtub in on its side through a back door when the bathroom tiling wasn't yet complete.

'I had to roll (the bathtub) back and forth, back and forth on the floor as I finished the tiling,' he said.

Pete's tile and design details can be seen throughout the home. In the bathroom, varnished tree branches from a tree are used as towel bars - another one of Pete's projects.

Room to grow

Within the main living room, lofted rounded ceilings surround oversized rugs and seating arrangements. The couple said they have had gatherings of up to 75 people comfortably - after all, it once was a church. One year the couple had a 23-foot-high Christmas tree and had to decorate the top of it from the choir loft.

While the Sweets have called the church home for years now, people still stop by, curious about the building.

'We have people that want to get married here - still,' said Pete. 'We've had a minister come by and ask if he can rent it out for services not knowing (that it's a house).'

It is not uncommon to have their doorbell rung by locals and visitors who have some connection to the church.

'At least six to eight times a year people stop to tell us what a great job we did (remodeling) and they say, 'I grew up in this church. I was confirmed in this church. We were married in this church,' Patsy said.

But no matter what changes take place inside, the building remains a spiritual place to those who visit.

'Every time we have a dinner party with people here for the first time, we thank the Lord for having us all together to experience this. You don't often get to be in a hundred-year-old building that's had so many people go through,' said Pete. 'There's something about the peacefulness of the place.'

In May, the Sweets' home will be the Lake Oswego Historic Home Tour along with other historical houses around the city. A plaque placed in the Sweets' front yard by the Oswego Heritage Council in 1999 explains more of the building's history.