Friday, March 6, 2015

St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [St. Paul Catholic Church (1899) Henry J. Schlacks, architect; (1922) Cav. Angelo Gianese Co., mosaics; Royal Bavarian Art Institute for Stained Glass, art glass (2008) restoration: JNKA, architects; WJE, engineers / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Bricks - and lots of them. That's exactly what 29-year-old architect Henry Schlacks was going to need for the parishioners of St. Paul's parish to build the church edifice he had designed for them.

  [St. Paul Catholic Church, 2234 S. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The parish had been founded in 1876 when a cluster of German immigrants settled in a sparsely populated area of Chicago located within easy walking distance of the recently completed McCormick Harvesting Company factory on Blue Island Avenue. The neighborhood was primarily Irish, and although the Catholic mass was universally celebrated in Latin, the Chicago archdiocese established native language parishes for their non-English-speaking congregants.

  [St. Paul Catholic Church, 22nd Place & Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Schlacks and his partner Henry L. Ottenheimer had designed a school building for the parish in  1892, but Schlacks alone came back to design the new church. The architect had decided that not one piece of wood, steel - or even a nail - would be used in the construction of the 209-foot long building or its soaring twenty-four story tall towers. A decision that was aided by the fact that members of the congregation - who were going to do most of the actual construction work - were from a section of Germany with a long tradition of masonry construction. In the northern European lowlands, along today's Germany, Poland and Denmark's Baltic Coast, large brick churches were built in Medieval Gothic and Romanesque styles during the heyday of the Hanseatic League, a tradition of craftsmanship that carried on well into the 19th century.

  [St. Paul Catholic Church, Heart of Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

A multitude of custom-made, vitrified brick in all shapes and sizes was furnished by the Chicago-based Jenkins and Reynolds Company, with project supervision by contractor Paul F.P. Mueller, who had met Schlacks when both men had been employed in the offices of architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan Sullivan. Everywhere you looked on the job site it was brick, brick, and more brick, and the entire structure rose from the ground, clay-fired-piece by clay-fired-piece, in just the same way as the mason's ancestors had done 500 years earlier. When 50 priests assisted Archbishop Patrick Feehan on June 25, 1899 at the dedication of Saint Paulus Kirche, an over flow crowd of 2,500 people packed the intersection of Hoyne and 22nd Place, and no one had ever seen anything quite like it.

  [St. Paul Catholic Church, Pilsen, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Over the next 30 years the interior was decorated, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, and Henry Schlacks was there to oversee all of it. The art glass came from studios in Munich, and the polished white marble from Carrara, Italy. The exquisite mosaic tile work was created in a Venetian workshop and the completed panels were shipped from Italy to Chicago for installation. By the turn of the 21st century, time, weather and moisture had not been kind to the roof or floor of the massive structure. The unsealed basement had compromised the sanctuary's floor joints and the leaking roof had caused interior water damage. In 2008 the archdiocese began a $10 million restoration of the building overseen by architects and engineers Jaeger Nickola Kuhlman & Associates, and Wiss Janney Elstner Associates. And just as they had done 100 years earlier, the congregation, now primarily Hispanic, worked alongside the contractors to help renew the only building of its kind in the United States.

  [St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

And we close with a great big thank you to our friend Pete - an active parishioner and dedicated steward of the church and its community - for the wonderful tour.

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