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Former Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church

Viewed across the broad green lawns of the west end of Tower Grove Park, the former Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Innocents cuts an interesting profile among the red brick houses along Kingshighway.

The parish closed in 2005, but it has roots going back to 1854, in at least two previous locations. Before it moved to the northwest corner of Kingshighway and Odell around 1952, it was at the southwest corner of Reber Place a block north. That penultimate church was replaced with a contemporarily styled convent for the ultimate church to be named Holy Innocents.

Like I’ve seen in several other churches around St. Louis, it is a fascinating melding of Modernism and the Gothic Revival that I’ve seen in the Roman Catholic St. Martin of Tours in Lemay, and more recently at the former Nelson Presbyterian Church in Uplands Park.

For those not familiar with the story of the Holy Innocents, they were the infant boys killed on the order of King Herod when he tried in vain to murder the newborn Christ in Bethlehem, as recounted in Matthew 2:16-18. In Roman Catholic iconography, it is usually called the Massacre of the Innocents, and a painting I know in Bologna by the Seventeenth Century painter Guido Reni is perhaps one of the most famous.

The contrast between the aluminum spire and the Gothic Revival pointed arch portals best illustrate the attempt at reconciling the new and old in churches after World War II.

As older churches in the city so often do, the building also addresses its secondary exposure along Odell, and there is a very cool porte cochere for cars to drive up to a second front door.

The property was once the location of the home of engineer George Stocker, and William Swekosky photographed the approximately fifty year old house before its demolition.

George Stocker Residence, 2833 S. Kingshighway, Photograph by William Swekosky, c. 1952, Missouri History Museum, N03817

But interestingly, if we look to the Sanborn map from 1903, if we head north up Kingshighway, which is to the left, we see that the previous location of the church was also a house on a large lot, though wood frame unlike the final location on the site of the Stocker residence, which is one block to the south and brick with a wood porch on east and south. Most of the brick houses in between are still standing.

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