The unthinkable happened late on the night of June 28. The former St. Liborius Roman Catholic Church, which had been closed in 1992 by the Archdiocese. It became SK8 Liborius approximately ten years ago.
The people behind SK8 Liborius had been working tirelessly over that time to fix up the former church, and I had thought it had avoided the fate that befell Bethlehem Lutheran, St. Leo’s and Sacred Heart in the previous decades in the Inner North Side. I know some of my readers didn’t support their efforts (eliciting some of the most colorful comments ever left on this site), but I personally supported SK8 Liborius, understanding their efforts were sincere, and realizing their love for the building was genuine. And no one else was going to step up to try and preserve it.
The fire burned hot and fast, which is consistent with these old churches; the wood is old growth timber with tight grains that has time to dry out for over a century, and it makes the perfect fuel for a massive conflagration. Just look at what happened to Notre Dame.
But with the sadness comes hope; remember, the bricks that built these walls were originally fired in kilns at temperatures much higher than that generated by wood fires, and I strongly suspect they are still structurally sound.
Already, volunteers were busy hauling away charred timbers; optimism and hope for the future has already begun. If you would like to donate, here is a link to their GoFundMe.
Don’t get me wrong; it is bad, really bad. All of those wonderful paintings that I documented a while back are completely gone, forever. But the beautiful sculpture that originally graced the interior is safe, now housed out in Eureka and the Calvary Cemetery mausoleum.
The entire roof is gone, from the front to the back. Interestingly, I found an old newspaper article stating that the Archdiocese was planning on demolishing the steeple, thinking it unstable. The fire proved that it is still stout, and perhaps can survive anything if it could survive what it went through last week.
The fire apparently started in the rectory, and the flames spread to the church next door. The rectory was occupied, and I assume it was an accident that started the fire.
The former convent, to the north at the southeast corner of Hogan and North Market Street, was completely saved by the courageous and quick work of the St. Louis Fire Department. It is now functioning as a homeless shelter. Across the street is the former school, not pictured, which is now a juvenile detention center–the one you’re always seeing on the news where people are escaping.
Looking at the backside, you wouldn’t have any idea of the nearby destruction.
I still think the walls could easily be stabilized and saved; I looked at fire insurance maps and they are 20 inches thick–almost two feet! And a nearby church, Zion Lutheran, shows how steel buttressing can be added to provided stability.
Embers from the fire two blocks away caught an abandoned apartment building on fire owned by Paul McKee’s Northside, and it was heavily damaged. Firefighters managed to put the fire out before it spread to its neighbors.
Just like when the Clemens Mansion burned, there were hot embers flying through the air all over the place, which caught this abandoned building on fire.
So about all these church fires. I don’t see any reason to think there’s some sort of “serial arsonist” on the loose since there is an explanation for most of these.
- Back in October of 2021, the campanile of the former Second Baptist caught fire. I never heard anything other than it being a squatter’s fire getting out of control.
- In December of 2022, fire broke in the sacristy of the former St. Augustine’s. Again, the sacristy would be a logical place for squatters to be living in cold weather, and where a fire originally started to keep warm could get out of control.
- The May of 2023 fire at Jamison Memorial is suspicious, especially considering the very next night there was a fire at the Fred. J. Swaine factory.
- The June 25th fire at the former church in Soulard was determined to be the spontaneous ignition of flammable art supplies.