Renovations reveal repairs needed at Heritage Junction

Marcelo Cairo President of Inertia Engineers examines the brass bell taken from the steeple atop the Ramona Chapel, behind them at Heritage Junction in Newhall on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal
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In an effort to restore the historic buildings of Heritage Junction, community leaders and local businesses have undertaken a renovation project that’s revealed additional damage to the area’s landmark steeple.

The renovations commenced last week when project leaders started tenting five buildings to eradicate termites. Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste described the tenting as step one in a process that will eventually result in a world-class museum at the Pardee house, as well as a restored bell and steeple at the Ramona Chapel.

Marcelo Cairo, president and owner of Inertia Engineers, was on the scene at Heritage Junction this week assessing the area to determine what work will need to be completed in order to save the brass bell and supporting structure. 

“Basically, we learned the entire steeple is structurally compromised, so we’re calling it a collapse hazard at this point,” Cairo said. “Because of its historic nature, we removed elements of its finishing that were still intact, so we can perfectly replicate exactly how it was built originally.”

Pieces of steeple atop the Ramona Chapel where removed to be re-engineered at Heritage Junction in Newhall on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Cairo said he also exposed the supporting structure and determined the way it’s built isn’t proper.

“The supporting structure is not historic in nature so we’re going to design a support that is more suitable to withstand the forces it needs to,” the local engineer said. “My hope is that we can reinstall the whole steeple with the bell and everything within two months, but part of the problem is funding the construction.”

Cairo is part of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, so he and his company have volunteered to do a lot of the prospective work pro-bono, he said, “but we’re trying to get more people involved to see if we can overcome the cost.”

“The success of the project all depends on if we can get some funding,’ Cairo said, mentioning he is confident in his project partner Weste. “She’s great at (fundraising) and she’s pulling all the strings she can to make this happen.”

Michelle Tucker, left, and Marcelo Cairo of Inertia Engineers discuss damaged pieces taken from the steeple atop the Ramona Chapel, behind them at Heritage Junction in Newhall on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

On the bright side, Cairo said he believes the church as an entire structure is stable and in good condition. He added the treatment for termites will likely be completed in the next few weeks.

Then the project will move into its second phase, which Weste said will include a re-roofing of the historic buildings.

Despite being made of metal, the shingles will still be historically fashioned, and they’ll also be fireproof, Weste previously said.

Michelle Tucker, left, and Marcelo Cairo of Inertia Engineers discuss damaged pieces taken from the steeple atop the Ramona Chapel, behind them at Heritage Junction in Newhall on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

“After that, we hope to work on the rebuild of the steeple,” Cairo said. “Then we hope we can crane everything in.”

The Ramona Chapel was the centerpiece of Robert E. Callahan’s Mission Village in Culver City from 1926 to 1962, according to Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society’s website. In 1963, the area of the Mission Village was paved to form the Santa Monica Freeway, and the chapel was eventually donated to the local historical society. It was moved to its present location at Heritage Junction in 1987.

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