Stained Glass

Squaw Chapel’s historic windows to shine again

Based on an article by Karen McIntyre, Sierra Sun

Seth Lightcap/Sierra Sun

The Squaw Valley Chapel was built in 1960 as a place of worship for Olympic athletes and visitors. In honor of the churchs 50th anniversary, the unique stained-glass work that defines the sanctuary will be restored to its original design.

After years of being cracked and broken by heavy snow, vandals and fire, the decorated glass window panes of the Squaw Valley Chapel are being restored to the condition they were in when the chapel was built for the 1960 Olympics. “It’s kind of a quiet little building of history,” Rev. Art Domingue said Friday morning as he stood in the chapel looking at its 360 degrees of bonded, stained-glass windows covered with rectangular segments of whites, oranges and blues to reflect Tahoe’s four seasons. The glass becomes lighter and more translucent toward the front of the chapel. “It just is dramatic how it goes from one shade to another,” he said. But since the chapel opened for tourists and athletes to worship nearly half a century ago, the potato-chip-shaped building has met its fair share of obstacles. “Over the years, some bad things have happened,” Domingue continued. “Vandals and snow have broken several window panes, and a fire from a wood-stove sent cracks up many of the remaining windows.”

Some of the broken colored panes have been replaced with clear windows, using universal religious symbols such as a fish and a phoenix. Other windows still sit with holes in them. “Thanks to a donation from a family corporation, glass has been ordered and the chapel’s broken windows should be restored within 60 days,” said Paul Arthur, who is overseeing the work and is head of the Sacred Space Committee. “It’s a gift,”  Domingue said. And it’s a gift to this chapel and this valley.

The chapel contracted with a glass company in Minden, Nev. Arthur said he got four bids, some outrageous, and he thinks the project may cost about $35,000. But Domingue said he wants the world to know that chapel staff is making an effort to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Olympics at Squaw Valley by restoring the chapel to its pristine condition. “The place of worship has a great history. I went to the very first service that was held here,” Arthur said, remembering that day in February 1960.

The chapel is an inviting spot for a wedding, and Arthur said his son and daughter both were married there. Domingue added that people stop in frequently to tell stories about getting married in the chapel or attending services there during the Olympics.

The 2002 Olympic torch carried through Squaw by World Cup Champion Tamara McKinney hangs on the wall. Music groups, women’s groups and Alcoholic Anonymous groups regularly use the chapel in addition to the 50 or so people who attend the Sunday service and the 500 that attend the Chapel’s three services on Christmas.

“It’s social; it’s faithful; it’s spiritual. It’s all kind of space,” Domingue said. “Spotlights shoot up from the ground outside to emphasize the colored glass walls.It’s quite spectacular. It’s also quite hard to keep clean. And our bear doesn’t help.”

Bears tend to gather under the chapel’s porch. And they like to tear out the ducts to lay on, making the nearly all-glass building even harder to heat. The chapel’s next project is to install heavy boards around the outside of the building to block bears from moving in. But for now, Domingue is focusing on restoring the window panes back to their picturesque form. “It’s just gorgeous,” he said. “People melt when they experience it.”