Photography by León Villagómez
Paul Beatie was standing in the kitchen when his life took a dramatic turn. "I was making coffee and my wife was on the computer in the other room, and she starts swearing, [yelling], "You've gotta come see this! The church is for sale!"
The 115-year-old building came with a permit for live concerts, so they took a flying leap, bought the church and transformed it into The Old Steeple, Ferndale's new live music venue. Beatie and wife Cheri March first visited Ferndale to escape the inland heat. They came for the architecture, but "fell in love with the community," says Beatie. Now they live in the church rectory and oversee a "little empire" comprised of the Old Steeple and the Ferndale Music Company — a music store, art gallery and music school. Also, they recently had their first baby. Because life is like that.
At age 12, Beatie started taking guitar lessons. "I sucked for a long time. But my teacher was this really, really cool guy. He was kind of like a therapist." That connection helped Beatie navigate his teenage years. Now, as a bass and drum teacher, he strives to pay it forward. He's also gotten pretty good with the guitar and still plays now and again with the Pyronauts, the instrumental surf band he used to practice with in a barn back in high school and with which he toured California and Europe.
The Ferndale Music Company opened at the church site in September of 2015. In November, Gene Parsons and David Hayes played The Old Steeple's first show to a sold out crowd of 230 people. "The first guys loved it. They said it sounded great," Beatie recalls enthusiastically. Tin ceilings make the room acoustically unique. "They didn't use monitors or anything. It was just the sound of the building."
Beatie isn't the first musician to own Ferndale's Methodist Episcopal church, which rests at the foot of the town's famously spooky cemetery. Over the years, the church has housed booksellers and artists, musicians and even a recording studio. Ferndale's oldest church, it was built in 1873 and underwent a radical remodel in 1901. In the 1950s, the congregation merged with Fortuna's Methodist Church and the building went up for sale in 1964. Since then, there have been seven owners.
The church was well cared for over the years. The building is immaculate inside and out, with a tidy paint job, new roof, luscious woodwork and an enormous barrel wood stove to keep things toasty. The chapel walls are adorned with intricate stained glass panels — memorial windows purchased by parishioners long ago.
Local artist Steve Porter, who owned the property in the 1990s, did most of the restoration. Beatie and March remodeled the restrooms to comply with ADA regulations and installed sound absorbing chairs in the chapel, but otherwise, they're leaving it be. "We don't want to mess with the integrity of the architecture," explains Beatie. "We don't want to screw it up."
He hopes to bring in big names while maintaining the venue's "good energy" and staying true to the room's extraordinary ability to carry acoustic sound. So far, it's been a great place to host student recitals, and they're even exploring options as a wedding venue.
"There are three things we're trying to do." He smoothes a sheet of paper onto the store counter and continues. "We're trying to give kids something to do. ... All of our shows will be all ages. Even though we could probably make more money by getting a beer and wine license and excluding kids, we don't wanna do that. Because there are kids in Ferndale and we want them to be excited about music." Beatie and March also want to bring more culture to the town's tight-knit community, as well as let people into the building itself. "People come by and say, 'I've lived here my whole life and I've never been in here.'"
Store & Lessons:
246 Berding St.,
The Old Steeple, Ferndale Music Company
Andy McKee, Feb. 3
Ledward Kaapana, Feb. 12
David Lindley, Feb. 28
Greg Brown, March 16
Johnny Houx Cygne, March 19
Old Steeple event tickets are available at the Ferndale Music Company and Mind's Eye Coffee Lounge.