Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Boniface Church — Chicago, Ill

The battle to save historic St. Boniface Church in Chicago's West Town neighborhood might be coming to a close. The victor — adaptive reuse.

A developer has come forward to propose the following ... SAVE the church exterior and quintessential four corner towers ... but GUT the interior and turn it into a senior living center. This website gives more details.

Shuttered since 1989, St. Boniface was designed by well-known Chicago ecclesiastical architect Henry J. Schlacks in 1902. In addition to being a wonderful architect, Schlacks was also a teacher, and was appointed the first Director of the Course in Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.

Take a look at the proposed plans.

Purist wish that this structure would be saved in tact. To them, adaptive reuse is seen as a compromise. I say "compromise away"!

St. Boniface Church | 1358 W. Chestnut Street | Chicago, IL


Monday, July 6, 2009

Preservation by Relocation.

Preservation by Relocation ... I like it.

It's the concept of saving a historic building by MOVING it, rather than repurposing it ... Amazing. Brave. Needed.

That's what the Diocese of Buffalo is calling the potential literal moving of St. Gerard's Church in Buffalo, NY to Atlanta, GA.

Check out this blog story. Apparently, they can't build churches fast enough in the South. So, a congregation in Atlanta, GA is interested in purchasing St. Gerard's Church and dismantling it ... stone by stone. According to officials in the Diocese of Buffalo, the prospects of selling the church are "nonexistent" to another congregation ... much less repurpose it.

An estimate for moving the church is $3 million dollars. Big side note ... that's how much they are paying for the new Catholic Church in Grafton, OH that I mentioned in a previous post.

Question to future congregations looking to find, or to build a new church ... How would you rather spend your $3 million dollars?

PHOTO: Sharon Cantillon/The Buffalo News

St. Gerard Church in Buffalo, NY ... Moving to Georgia?

I was turned on to this story from a blogger responding to my post on the closing of St. James Church in Lakewood, OH. The blogger suggested that the church could possibly be sold and moved like St. Gerard's Church in Buffalo, NY. ...

What ?

So, I did a Google search for St. Gerard's Church in Buffalo, NY, and lo and behold, it's a possibility being discussed. (Link to story here.)

As you can guess, there is a lot of controversy regarding the dismantling and moving of this church among those in Buffalo who would like to see the building POTENTIALLY "repurposed" versus those who would like to see the church moved with the GUARANTEE that it would live on in another community.

My vote -- SAVE the building and move it. Otherwise, it may go the way of the wrecking ball.

An amazing story. I wait in anticipation for the outcome.

St. Gerard Church | 1190 E. Delavan Avenue | Buffalo, NY 14215 ... at least for now!

PHOTO: Sharon Cantillon/The Buffalo News

Friday, June 12, 2009

New ... Thumbs Up.

The above sketch illustrates the new St. Mark's Church in Huntersville, North Carolina, designed by ecclesiastical architect, Duncan Stroik. To me, Stroik's work can be used as a benchmark for what can be achieved in new ecclesiastical structures.  As Stroik's website states regarding the new St. Mark's Church ... "It is modeled on the broad tradition of CathoFont sizelic architecture in the United States as well as churches dedicated to St. Mark in Venice, Florence and Rome."

Key words ... "BROAD TRADITION".

If you check out the drawings of St. Mark's on Stroik's website, you can't deny the church feels both modern AND traditional. The design is an elegant marriage of modern and traditional aesthetics.

The next time you hear that a church committee is interested in hiring an architect to design their new church ... this is who you should call.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New ... Thumbs Down.

The above rendering is for the new catholic church of Our Lady of Peace in Grafton, OH. The estimated $3 million dollar, 450-seat sanctuary is scheduled to be finished in 2010. No easy feat considering the many church closings going on around the country.

I'm not digging the new church design. Granted, it's just a rendering. But, color me a traditionalist, it doesn't say catholic church to me. I am going to follow up this posting with another post titled "New ... Thumbs Up". The post will feature an american architect who designs NEW churches that ... well ... look like churches. Specifically, I mean new church designs that use historic forms but are modern in function. It can be done ... and, it can be done well!

I applaud the parishioners of Grafton's Our Lady of Peace for their sacrifice and dedication. I just wish they, and the architects, had borrowed more from the successful past of church architecture, rather than the (more-often-than-not) mediocre present. For some reason, when it comes to church architecture, traditional forms say "stable" to me ... whereas the newer ones seem so "temporary". 

Just my opinion.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Proud Steeples Bite Dust for Progress' Sake

"Proud Steeples Bite Dust for Progress' Sake, " was the headline appearing on an article in The Cleveland Press on January 1, 1961 describing the demolition of St. Martin's Catholic Church in Cleveland. At its dedication, St. Martin's Church (black and white photos, shown above, from the Western Reserve Historical Society) was described as the "most beautiful Slovak church in America." It was constructed at a cost of $100,000 (or approximately $2,800,000. today) when dedicated in December 2007.

More from the 1961 article from The Cleveland Press:

"With a roaring rumble and clouds of choking dust, the twin steeples of St. Martin Catholic Church crashed to the ground yesterday. 

The 52-year-old church at 2495 East 23rd Street is being torn down by the George Elie Wrecking Co. to make way for redevelopment of the area. In the early afternoon the first of the 110-foot steeples fell under the pounding of the wrecking ball. It took about an hour and a half to weaken the heavy brick corners. The rubble landed just where the crew of half a dozen meant it to fall. The second steeple was more stubborn. The ball pounded at it for two hours, and then the 3,700-pound ball was buried under the debris. Police blocked traffic along the street and kept the 100 or so spectators out of the way, but there was little danger, as the steeples toppled neatly toward the back of the area."

Apparently, St. Martin's had fallen victim to eminent domain to make way for a freeway. Progress? Really? 

Prior to St. Martin's demolition, as is the case with most religious architecture, its valuable articles are removed ... altars, windows, etc. ... and stored. In some instances, other existing churches, or new religious structures, can inherit some of these items. Such is the case with the large-round-rose window that once appeared on the front of St. Martin's Church. This amazing window can now be seen in the chapel at John Carroll University in University Heights, OH. 

I am truly grateful that I can still see this wonderful window today. But, I can't help but be saddened that I can never see this window in its original context/design. Here is a line that appears in a building description by a book published by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland in 1942 ... "A great arched choir window rises over the entrance and points to a niche holding a statue of St. Martin."

Across the United States, we are in danger of losing many of our historic church buildings to a wrecking ball. Our once tangible inspiration will be reduced to a photograph and a line of text.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Change of Heart

I had prepared the above photos (from the Cleveland Memory Project) for a much different post. A post that focused on the loss to the City of Cleveland's church architecture with the closing of St. Colman's Church. ... Well, all has changed.

It has been announced that Bishop Lennon has decided to reverse his decision on the closing of St. Colman's Church and St. Ignatius of Antioch Church ! More on his decision can be read here. The report also contains a letter from Bishop Lennon explaining his change of mind as well as his expectations for the parishes now that he has decided not to close them.

I am thankful for the change of heart by Bishop Lennon ... if only we could have saved a few more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

St. Adalbert's Church - Cleveland, OH

St. Adalbert's Church is probably the most under-rated piece of church architecture in Cleveland. Dedicated in 1912, at a cost of $60,000 (approx. $1,500,000. today) it is the quintessential neighborhood church ... humanly-scaled with interesting style. Defined as modified-romanesque, St. Adalbert's is best appreciated in person. 

Designed by my favorite church architect, William P. Ginther, St. Adalbert's twin-sister can be seen at St. Joseph's Church in Ashtabula, OH.  Apparently, Mr. Ginther, a very prolific church architect from Akron, OH, would re-use a design ... but never more than two times.

St. Adalbert's is scheduled to close in 2010. My hope is that another congregation will take over this gem.

St. Adalbert's Church | 2347 East 83rd Street | Cleveland, OH 44104

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can These Maserpieces Be Saved?

Cleveland architectural historian, Steven Litt has an excellent article on titled "Closing of Catholic churches raises an urgent question: Can these masterpieces be saved?". Midway down the article, there is a section where you can upload a photo of your church. Awesome idea. The spectacular photo above (one of 10 taken by Mr. Litt for the article) is of a "sail vault" that appears in the side aisle of St. Ignatius of Antioch's Church. It is named a sail vault because it mimics the form a square sail takes when filled with wind! Also notice that the arches in the church have have a reoccurring eight-pointed star, representing Christ's resurrection eight days after his death. This is why church architecture is so interesting to study! Older churches are filled with tons of meaning that is lost to most of us (including me) today. These buildings were meant to be read. They were meant to teach. Oftentimes, old churches are called "sermons in stone." St. Ignatius of Antioch Church is an amazing symbol in Cleveland architecture, and it is scheduled to be closed by 2010. 

Has our visual illiteracy kept us from appreciating our older churches? Is a box-like church sufficient enough to feed our eyes and inspire our hearts?

St. Ignatius of Antioch Church | 10205 Lorain Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44111

Sunday, April 19, 2009

St. Colman's Loses Appeal to Bishop to Stay Open

St. Colman's Church in Cleveland has lost it's appeal to the Bishop to stay open as reported in this article from the local NBC television station. I've been following the congregation and the arts community reaction to St. Colman's closing. On so many levels, I feel this should have been one of the churches spared by Bishop Lennon. 

Without a doubt, St. Colman's (above, photo from is one of the grandest ethnic churches in the city of Cleveland. The exterior is massive and elegant. In a recent article from, local architecture historian, Tim Barrett states ... "If you're not moved by it, I'm sorry, you better check into a hospital". And that's just the exterior! The interior is equally stunning. It represents the best of the best from that time period of community church construction.

Unfortunately, the Bishop of Cleveland was not moved by 3,300 hand written letters of appeal by the parishioners of St. Colman's.

In a non-related event this past week, a relative unknown -- an underdog if you will -- Susan Boyle went on national TV on "Britain's Got Talent and sang her heart. She was exceptional, much to the surprise of many in the audience, who at first glance deemed her a loser. She opened her mouth, and their jaws dropped. Her win has has become so symbolic to so many. In these rough times, it's important that the underdog win every so often. It says that HOPE is alive and well -- for all of us. 

In a sign of hope and real faith, Bishop Lennon could have let another underdog win -- the parishioners, and the architectural admirers, of the very grand St. Colman's Church.

St. Colman's Church | 2027 W. 65th Street | Cleveland, OH 44102

Monday, April 13, 2009

July 25, 2004

I remember the day well. 

It was Sunday morning, July 25, 2004. I traveled down to Carnegie Avenue to attend mass and photograph one of my favorite churches, by one of my favorite church architects (William P. Ginther) -- Holy Trinity-St. Edward's Church. The homily was very different that day. On that day, Father Bob announced that today would be the last mass in the building. And that after communion, he would be removing the communion from the tabernacle and extinguishing the tabernacle candle (see photo above)

The tabernacle candle is ALWAYS lit ... meaning that there is blessed holy communion (the body of Christ) in the tabernacle. In other words, Christ is ALWAYS in this building. At least, that is how it was told to me as a child.

Nothing can prepare you for the moment when you see a priest extinguish that candle. My heart sank. I had a lump in my throat. I had tears in my eyes ... as did all of the other people around me. Christ ... is no longer here. This building is NO LONGER a church. Like most significant loss, you are never the same.

In time, the Diocese removed all of the altars and stained glass windows. However, there is a NEW light at the end of the tunnel. The building was sold, and is in use by another congregation ... their name ... "4 Real Church".

A very thankful Amen.

4 Real Church/Holy Trinity-St. Edward Church | 7211 Carnegie Avenue | Cleveland, OH

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Taxman Cometh

Churches are exempt from paying property taxes until they are no longer used as churches.

Thus is the conundrum facing the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, and being discussed by Cleveland writer Michael Gill, in an excellent article in the most current issue of Scene Magazine. 

The fear is that the Diocese -- in a mad rush -- will be forced to tear down many churches in order to lower the tax burden on each property. Why? ... Because the taxes will be lower on a "land onlyversus "land and building" property. 

One of my favorite Cleveland Churches -- by one of my favorite local architects (William P. Ginther) -- is in real danger of the wrecking ball ... St. Adalbert's Church on East 83rd. (facade detail from the Scene Magazine article shown above). More on this very unique church by William Ginther in an upcoming post.

St. Adalbert's Church | 2347 East 83rd Street | Cleveland, OH 44104

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Once Grand ... Now, Abandoned and Forgotten.

In a previous post (March 22), I showed an image of the interior of the abandoned St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church in Cleveland, OH. I referred to this church as an "abandoned treasure." I had no idea of what a TRUE treasure this building was — until I was sent an old photograph of the interior. I breaks my heart that this once grand building has been reduced to its current state.

Other current photographs of St. Joseph's Byzantine Church can be seen here.

I am all for repurposing closed churches (restaurants, condominiums, art gallery) that have be left behind by their congregations ... Anything is better than this. 

Your thoughts ... ?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Perseverance: St. Leo's Church - Columbus, OH

Closed yes ... but not really

St. Leo's Church in Columbus, OH. was closed by the Catholic Diocese of Columbus on July 1, 1999. However, that didn't stop a group of parishioners from taking over the building and keeping it open. They have created the St. Leo Preservation Society, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the buildings of St. Leo Church and to further the charitable work of the parish. In addition to raising funds for the preservation of this wonderful building, they have created The St. Leo Parish Memorial Seminarians Endowment Fund. This fund provides financial support to seminarians. 

One of the goals in their mission is to "to educate the public on the importance of all faith communities and their buildings to a surrounding community."

St. Leo's Church | 221 Hanford Street | Columbus, OH 43206

Thursday, March 26, 2009

St. Casimir's Church - Cleveland, OH

Built in 1918, St. Casimir's is another Cleveland church that is scheduled to close in 2010. 

Designed by Cleveland-born architect William Jansen, the red brick and stone trim exterior is classified as Romanesque with its rounded entrance arcade, two symmetrically-placed open bell towers, and corbeled gable. The exterior is classic and beautiful ... the interior is STUNNING ... and worth seeing in person. This church is truly authentic inside. It hasn't been marred by senseless updates to modernize it by ripping out its altars and covering up its murals with white paint. As my 82 year old father said to me when we stepped inside this church to look around – "this is what a church should look like." Let me say it again ... THIS IS WHAT A CHURCH SHOULD LOOK LIKE. A one-of-a kind Cleveland treasure that must be saved.

St. Casimir Church | 8223 Sowinski Avenue | Cleveland , OH 44103

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Statement from the Cleveland Restoration Society

The Cleveland Restoration Society has published an official statement regarding the closing of Churches in the Diocese of Cleveland. Here is a link to the statement.

The Cleveland Restoration Society | 3751 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115 | 216.426.1000

Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Joseph Byzantine Church - Abandoned Treasure

I came across these photos (taken in February 2009) on Flickr of an abandoned church in Cleveland, OH. 

St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church (above: interior) was built in 1933, and was designed by architect Joseph E. Fronczak (or Franczak) of Buffalo, NY. I'm not sure who the mural artist was -- but they are very well done. 

In the 1970s, parish members began migrating out of the city to the suburbs. The congregation dwindled. The great expense of maintaining the building and the grounds forced the congregation to abandon the location. Eventually, the building was taken over by the Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church community, who in turn abandoned the building. More photos of this church can be seen at Flickr at this link and this link.

Can we allow this to happen to any more of our ecclesiastical treasures?

Friday, March 20, 2009

St. Procop's Church Interior - Cleveland Ohio

The above photos offer a glimpse into the stunning interior of St. Procop's Catholic Church in Cleveland, OH. I'm not sure who painted the murals -- they are first rate, as are the stained glass windows and other furnishings. It's hard to believe this treasure is scheduled to close in 2010.

St. Procop Church | 3181 W. 41st Street | Cleveland, OH 44109

Thursday, March 19, 2009

St. Procop's Church - Cleveland Ohio

French born architect, Emile Uhlrich emigrated to the United States in 1891. He settled into the ever-growing city of Cleveland, OH. Uhlrich had been educated at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. Beaux Arts style (or "fine art style")  stressed order, symmetry, formal design, grandiosity, and elaborate ornamentation. 

In 1899, Uhlrich entered into a partnership with fellow architect Godfrey Fugman. The partnership lasted until 1904. It was generally believed at the time that Fugman handled more of the engineering and business side of projects, while Uhlrich was the creative genius.

In 1903, St. Procop's Church was dedicated. The Catholic Universe Bulletin called it "one of the finest church buildings in the city." The architects were getting rave reviews for setting a new standard in local church designWhat exactly does "new standard" mean? 

Uhlrich and Fugman employed the newest technologies and techniques of the time. They engineered a structural frame of steel trusses which allowed for a massive, wide-open interior space that was unobstructed by columns. They cleverly hid indirect lighting throughout the interior, and slightly raked (sloped) the floor from the vestibule to the main altar. Decoration became more ornate as you got closer to the altar -- thus drawing the eye forward. The new St. Procop's was a  highly-designed, highly-functional space ... worthy of being the new standard.

Uhlrich went on to design the breathtaking Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, NY, as well as the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, OH. A list of some of his work was compiled by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission. It can be seen here.

St. Procop's is scheduled to be closed in 2010. It is well worth a visit. The exterior has seen some losses of two front towers and central dome; however, the interior is stunning (murals, windows, altars). The photo of St. Procop's  Church (above) is from the Cleveland Memory Project.

St. Procop Church | 3181 W. 41st Street | Cleveland, OH 44109

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We Forget Who We Are

A few years ago, I came across this article on the internet regarding the loss of (read: thrown out) sacramental artwork in churches due to drastic "renovations" and "updating." The article is written by Marek Czarnecki. At one point the article discusses the closing of churches. Czarnecki offers this profound insight ... "When a parish closes, that community of people disperses into other parishes. Without our physical sites and signs, however, we forget who we are, and we lose the material objects that link us to a very deep, historical communal identity. In American culture, we lose our personal and transpersonal depth when the sites that ground us in our history and spiritual ancestors disappear ... Instinctively, with the demolition of churches, its members sense that the institution and its dogma are less permanent, and in the hands of mercurial forces."

I don't know if I can add anything else to make Mr. Czarnecki's statement more profound.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. James Church - Lakewood, Ohio

A picture is worth a thousand words. The above historical photo is of St. James Catholic Church in Lakewood, OH ... (mentioned in the previous post) one of the 52 parishes expected to close in the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. According to an architectural description, the building design is Sicilian Romanesque, patterned after the Monreale Cathedral in Palermo, Sicily. The photo is from the Cleveland Memory Project.

St. James Church | 17514 Detroit Avenue | Lakewood, OH 44107

More Than a Building

It took this line in today's newspaper (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH) to get me to start my own blog. I've read it a million of times before when a church closes ... it goes like this ... "This building is a beautiful building. A magnificent building. But the bottom line is, it isn't the church. We are." The article quotes the well-intentioned Rev. John Weigand pastor at the eventually closing century-old St. James Church on Cleveland's west side suburb of Lakewood, OH. 

I have to admit, I am a more devout church architecture student (catholic churches to be exact) than I am a church goer.

As a kid growing up in Ashtabula, OH (think small town Ohio), I attended both a Catholic grade school (Mother of Sorrows) and high school. So, needless to say, I was in Church --- a lot. Add to that, I was an altar boy -- a very devout one. In fact, the pastor of my parish told me he would be the altar boy at my first mass. I didn't become a priest, but my experience as a altar boy was amazing. Why, because I got to spend a lot of time in this stunning structure -- a building -- a church. (See vintage postcard of the interior of Mother of Sorrows from the early 1900s above.)

Oftentimes, I would sneak into the church on a Saturday, or after school, with my cheap camera and snap away at the windows, arches, statues, etc. For me, the building was creative inspiration. For me, looking at and studying the building was as much of a prayer to god as would be if I had knelt in a pew to pray. It was a connection without words.

So, I will end my first post with that. Sure, buildings are buildings. But churches -- especially OLD churches -- are more than that ... just ask any 8 year old.

Mother of Sorrows Church | 1464 W. 6th Street | Ashtabula, OH 44004