Two copper and brass-clad doors that graced St. Mary’s Church in Uptown Butte for decades were headed to Colorado on Wednesday to the dismay of some who desperately wanted them back on the old church.
Mark Reavis, a longtime architect in Butte who moved to Colorado last year, said he wanted them back on the church, too. But he said his requests to guarantee their preservation were not met after a year and he faced a deadline to remove them.
So Reavis, who says he owns the doors, retrieved them Monday from the Butte Archives building where they were being stored, loaded them in a U-Haul and headed back to Silverton, Colorado, where he is planning director.
The Our Lady of the Rockies Foundation, which owns the vacant church at 440 N. Main St., and a group of Butte Catholics say they were working to meet Reavis’ demands for repatriating the doors and were almost there.
“I’m just broken-hearted about this,” said Debbie Shea, who helped organize a St. Mary’s Committee that wants to preserve the church, among other goals. “I tried to get something in place real fast to stop him from doing this.”
Mike Cerise, president of the Lady of the Rockies Foundation, said the group planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss efforts at getting the doors back but, “I don’t know what we can do.”
It’s the latest and perhaps final chapter in a dispute over the giant doors, which are more than 8 feet tall, 2 inches thick of wood and covered with copper and brass sheet metal with crosses on each.
The church has been closed for years but Our Lady of the Rockies Foundation bought it in 1987 for its office and shops. That was short-lived and the office moved to the Butte Plaza Mall.
At some point the doors came off, but there have been conflicting claims and stories about their fate after that.
Reavis says the doors were sold at a yard sale by the Lady of the Rockies group and were transferred to other owners before he got them in a building purchase in Butte years ago. Shea disputes that, others do, too, but some say they just don’t know.
Reavis says while he was serving as Butte-Silver Bow’s historic preservation officer in the late 1980s, he prevented stained glass from the church from being sold. He said he tried to save the doors then, too.
When he left for Colorado last year, he and his wife, Nicole von Gaza Reavis, were prepared to gift them back if certain conditions were met. They included promises to put the doors back on the church and protect them with restrictions spelled out in a property deed.
The Archives Board of Directors agreed to store them for up to a year in hopes that an agreement could be reached. The year deadline was this coming Dec. 13.
Archives Director Ellen Crain sent Reavis an email Nov. 21 saying she had received permission to keep the doors until March 1 if he could send a copy of a “good faith offer” that the doors would be transferred to the church owner.
Reavis shared that email with The Montana Standard as well as recent emails sent to him by Vicky Leskovar, manager of the Lady of the Rockies Foundation.
In one dated Nov. 22, Leskovar said the foundation planned to send Reavis a “declaration of covenant” when their attorney returned from the holidays Nov. 28. It would be part of the deed and be in full compliance with his wishes, she wrote.
“Thank you for your willingness to work with us,” Leskovar wrote in the email. “We will forward the completed documents as soon as we have them.”
In an email two days before, Leskovar said the foundation had delayed action until they had funds and people in place to move, revitalize and reinstall the doors, which they now had.
Shea said she was trying to get a court injunction to at least temporarily prevent Reavis from retrieving the doors. But she got a call Monday saying he had gotten them.
“His title was historic preservation officer and then he takes off with them,” she said. “What kind of character does that?”
Crain said her board had agreed only to store the doors temporarily, and because Reavis owned them, he was allowed to remove them Monday. The county had nothing to do with the dispute, she said.
Reavis said the county had raised “safety issues” about storing the doors — concerns he said were obviously fabricated by their willingness to keep them until March. Crain said she only told Reavis that her staff could not move the doors themselves because they were very heavy and the Archives didn’t own them.
Reavis said he wanted to gift the doors back all along but the St. Mary’s group and the foundation had not met the preservation conditions and he was under a December deadline to retrieve the doors.
Then, he said, he was suddenly being asked to provide a letter of good faith, which he feared would be turned against him legally. He also said he didn't know if he could return to get them in March.
“We already offered to donate the doors,” he said. “They were at the Archives. They were right there.” The church is only a block up the street.
Reavis said Shea, in a story the Standard did on the doors last January, had only negative things to say about him and county officials had ignored a formal letter he sent them on the issue.
In an email he sent to the foundation, he noted the fast-approaching deadline to get the doors and said he would be retaining them.
“We will never consider the repatriation of the doors without clear historic protections imposed on the church buildings deed,” he said. “Frankly the true lack of a historic preservation ethic by BSB makes it highly unlikely that we will ever donate the doors.”
County Chief Executive Dave Palmer said Wednesday that the dispute didn’t involve the county and he thought the parties were working toward an agreement.