AUBURN | Exactly 15 years ago this month, Glenn and Donna Fletcher purchased a former Auburn church living on a prayer.
The historic landmark, at 68 N. Division St., was the First Church of Christ Disciples until 1967. The structure then saw life, at points, for woodworking and a few apartments until its foreclosure in 1998.
Over the years, the church was stripped clean of its effects by parishioners, sellers or looters. Pews, stained-glass windows, other religious items — all gone.
Built in 1890, the structure is technically 125 years old. But after more than a decade's worth of renovations, the local landmark has been reborn.
The building celebrated its grand opening Nov. 29 with a new purpose and a new name: Euterpe Hall, a rentable venue space named after the Greek muse (pronounced yoo-ter-pee).
The Fletchers, longtime Auburn natives, took on the project in 2000 after purchasing the building from the city for $5,000. Glenn said his wife — "she's the artist" of the pair, he said — envisioned the former church's reincarnation.
"A gazillion dollars" later, the hall boasts a maximum capacity of 350 people between the first and second floors. It is open to host weddings, baby showers, business meetings and other events, Glenn said.
He cited "a need" in the city for a more formal event venue.
"When you grow up here, think about the places you've gone for banquets," Glenn said, listing places with event spaces such as the Ukrainian National Club and the Sunset Restaurant. "We wanted to build something unique."
Glenn said he and his wife funded the restoration themselves. They were faced with a building littered with boarded windows, dead pigeons, vermin — even a tree growing from one of the towers.
The couple completely redid the landmark, but remained mindful of maintaining its historic value in any way they could, Glenn said. Remains of stained-glass windows and the original woodwork were implemented at different spots about Euterpe Hall.
Meanwhile, they completely gutted the place down to the former church's four walls, and reworked the floor plan. Clearing the former church of debris and rubble filled 20 dumpsters.
The process saw them employ a structural engineer and an architect to make sure the design was sound, Glenn said. The base of the building was also restructured with new steel girders.
"You could drive a Mack Truck through this place. There's no give in this floor," Glenn laughed. "It's good for another 100. It's got more time than I've got."
The Fletchers started the project when Glenn was 49 years old. He's now 64.
They plugged away at the work in phases, though each phase was just as challenging as the next, he said. At one point in 2004, the couple tried to sell the structure off to have someone else finish the job.
However, seeing the vision come together with the installation of drywall and hardwood floors were "turning points," he said, that renewed some faith.
"I think we were a little naive about the cost of it all," he said. "It's kind of like a Catch-22: You get to a point when you can't turn back."
With structural renovations complete, Glenn said the focus turns to installing a parking lot for Euterpe Hall's patrons.
For Sunday's open house, folks parked on the property's front lawn. They were given an opportunity to scope out Euterpe's first floor, which Glenn believes is ideal for a banquet setting with space for dancing, music and food. An upstairs balcony overlooks the main hall.
Glenn also showed them the lower floor, a more intimate spot capable of holding 50 people with a bar. The room is located adjacent to a kitchen area where food can be heated.
"I don't think we'll ever get a return on a total investment," Glenn said about the total project. "Now it's a place that's available as an upscale meeting place. It's picturesque, I think."