The Resurrection of St. Augustine’s

As I wrote this Monday in St. Louis Magazine, the long suffering St. Augustine has been purchased by Brittany Breeden and is going to be rehabbed as a community center. No, it’s not going to be returned back to an immaculate copy of what it looked like in 1900, but rather it will be stabilized, secured and allowed to continue its existence as a testament to its beauty and the people who lived and who still live in the western edge of the St. Louis Place neighborhood. I want to stress none of us who support the purchase and conversion of the old church into a community center is under any illusion that this will not be a leviathan task.

First up is the apse, which is probably where the groin vaulting, which in this case is a special variant known as stellar vaulting, is best preserved.

Many of the original Emil Frei and Associates stained glass windows are still covered in plywood, so they’re preserved in good condition.

Moving into the crossing, the vast majority of the vaulting has collapsed due to holes in the roof letting in water, and lack of heating which allowed nature to take its course on the delicate wood lathe and plaster.

But the beauty of a giant Nativity scene in the south transept, though damaged, still shines through. It is remarkable how beautiful these windows are, and I can easily say these are some of the most beautiful in St. Louis.

The two balconies are still stable, overall, but have the weight of the vaulting from up above resting on top of the upper one.

Some of the beautiful plasterwork survives under the ceiling below the lower balcony.

The north windows, including the giant window in the north transept, never had their plywood removed, so they are in great shape. I think the north transept’s subject is the Resurrection of Christ, but I can’t be sure since the light is blocked out.

I climbed up the stairs of the bell tower; if you go back and look at the front facade of the church you’ll note the circular turret coming out the side of the main spire with the conical roof. Unfortunately, the copper thieves savaged the masonry at the top from the inside to get at the copper flashing, so we stopped at that point since there were too many bricks on the treads for our safety.

Looking out the windows, the JeffVanderLou neighborhood stretches out west of the street in the background, which is Jefferson Avenue, the western boundary of St. Louis Place. The beleaguered Central High School is in the distance, at Garrison and Natural Bridge avenues.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Slevin Kelevra says:

    Truly haunting photos Chris. Thanks.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      There should be additional photography by other more skilled artists coming out from that Saturday, as Project Augustine allowed about a dozen people access.

  2. ME says:

    Chris, Are there any plans yet on how the broken / missing stained glass windows will be addressed?

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Good question. I didn’t ask about the stained glass as the conversation focused on first and foremost insuring that A) the roof was fixed, as nothing else can be fixed until rainwater penetration is stopped, and B) assuring the building is structurally sound, which engineers and preservationist architects believe it is.

      As far as the stained glass windows, I can tell you that the broken pieces of glass are lying under their respective windows; I was able to see and pick up several pieces, but none are larger than a couple square inches. In other words, no one has made off with whole passages of the stained glass in a professional theft or anything. In other churches, such as St. Liborius, the missing stained glass was replaced with clear plexiglass of sufficient quality to not yellow from UV exposure. I don’t want to speak for the new owners, so I’m not sure what their plans are, however.

  3. Gary Mandrell Sr says:

    So sad to see. My wife attended St, Augustine’s. I lived a couple blocks away from her , but attended Sacred Heart on 25th and University. My old home is still standing barely at 2542 e University.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Mr. Mandrell, I looked up your house; it is owned by Paul McKee, who has been landbanking property in the neighborhood for over a decade.

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