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Second Presbyterian Church

Second Presbyterian Church, Northwest Corner of 5th and Walnut, Photograph by Thomas M. Easterly, 1868, Missouri History Museum, N17093

Second Presbyterian Church traces its founding back to 1838, the same year Adam Lemp arrived in St. Louis. Its first location was purchased in the first addition to St. Louis west of the original town plat of the city, which I wrote about late in 2020. It’s fascinating to see how these historic congregations’ churches follow the architectural trends of the time they needed to build or expand. The Greek Revival was in style, particularly due to the influence of George I. Barnett, and the church shows the influence of Greek temples such as the Second Temple of Hera at Paestum, which I’ve featured before. This was also the site of a confrontation between rioters and soldiers during the Civil War.

Second Presbyterian Church, Northwest Corner of 17th and Lucas Place, Photograph by Boehl & Koenig, c. 1873, Missouri History Museum, N34138

When the congregation moved to Lucas Place and 17th Street, it was only logical that the next church building would be in the Gothic Revival, which had been popularized by Romantic Era architects such as Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, who made major restorations and alterations to Notre Dame de Paris and other French Medieval monuments in the Nineteenth Century. At some point the church lost its spire, probably due to being battered by the weather.

Second Presbyterian Church, Northwest Corner of Taylor and Westminster Place, c. 1900-1910, Missouri History Museum, P0245-S03-00131-6g

Finally, making it a triplet on locating their churches on the northwest corner of an intersection, the congregation chose Taylor and Westminster in the Central West End in 1896, which was just becoming a fashionable neighborhood. They chose Theodore Link, who was riding a wave of successful commissions after completing Union Station downtown. The Romanesque Revival, which was differentiating Protestant denominations, particularly the Presbyterians, from Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, was the perfect choice, as other churches of that style were rising all over the western end of the city. The present church, completed in 1900, with its massive crossing tower most likely shows the influence of Romanesque churches such as Groß St. Martin in Cologne, which I’m sure Link would have been familiar with.

And that tower certainly is one of the centerpieces of that massive structure, looming over the intersection and the sanctuary below.

The front façade is flanked by twin towers, one of which is seen below.

The walls are built of cut ashlar, with a rusticated finish.

It’s interesting to see how the rainwater has washed away the coal soot in some places and not in the other. It seems that the gutters are not adequate in this otherwise stout and beautiful building.

The porte cochere has a Roman arch that is slightly failing, and I can tell you why. The strength of the Roman arch comes from them being arranged in a row called an arcade, as seen in many Roman buildings. But this arch has no companion to the east (it’s held up by the building mass to the west), so it is sagging due to the lack of buttressing that would replaced another that would channel the forces down, and not out.

Even the downspouts, such as this one that clears water from the front portal’s porch, is sculpted with elegance and care.

I believe this torchiere is either cast iron or bronze, but it was also clearly designed by Link as part of the original blueprints for the church.

The front façade of the church is a tour-de-force of sculpting, with an emphasis on replicating the foliation of the Romanesque style capitals, probably inspired by the Corinthian Order from Classical architecture, and the hulking proportions called for in the massive style.

The rest of the of the building is relatively simple, with the exception of the dentillated cornice and the rich red terracotta roof tiles.

The Sunday School wing was apparently built first, and the church second.

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