Old Cathedral Begins $15M Renovation Coinciding with CityArchRiver Efforts

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Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MOArchdiocese of St. Louis representative Katie Pesha has confirmed there are plans for an extensive renovation project at the Old Cathedral (officially the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France) which is ringed by the Arch grounds. The project is expected to cost between $12 and $15 million and is being funded completely by private donations. Currently only phase one has been funded according to Pesha and donations will dictate the future pace and extent of the renovation.

Phase one is a stone restoration and window replacement that is expected to cost approximately $3 million and be completed by the end of the year. The optimal plan for the renovation would be highly focused on restoring the historic elements of the interior as best as possible according to Pesha. This includes restoration of the wooden floors, pews and paintings, updated lighting, repair of the tile mosaic floor around the altar, plus a potential museum expansion.

The multilevel museum showcases the rich history of the parish which was founded in 1770. It is accessed by a separate entrance and located on the northwest side of the Old Cathedral. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 2:30pm and features  religious art and artifacts dating back to the late 1700s, the original church bell, and a gift shop.

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MO
{the Old Cathedral was completed in 1834 – St. Louis was elevated to an Archdiocese in 1847}

Pesha commented that there has not been a project of this scope completed since the 1960 in conjunction with the planning of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. She also noted further needs include replacement of failing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC infrastructure and attending to maintenance costs for the basilica.

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MONew York landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh’s design team MVVA was selected in 2010 to resurrect the Arch grounds in time for the monument’s 50th anniversary on October 28, 2015. The project will create 16-acres of new park space, more than 25-acres of landscape improvements on the Arch grounds, 3.5 miles of new accessible pedestrian pathways, and more than 9-acres of new community orientated event space.

The MVVA  design initially envisioned a small pedestrian plaza and possible restaurant facing the Old Cathedral. Those plans have been shelved, but the significant renovations of the Arch grounds being planned, helped prompt a renewed effort to renovate the only structure remaining on the Arch grounds from the time the area was cleared to create the JNEM.

The Old Cathedral today serves as a parish church and according to Wikipedia, it ranks 177th of 196 churches in size of congregation in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. However, because of its historical significance, the basilica remains a popular church for marriage ceremonies (ranking second of 196 churches) and is a popular tourist destination.

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MO

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MO

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MO

Old Cathedral - St. Louis, MO

Old Cathedral - CityArchRiver plans
{CityArchRiver plans for the Old Cathedral area – 2013}

The first Catholic church in St. Louis is reported to have been build of logs in 1770. The Old Cathedral dates to 1834. More from Wikipedia: Built in Greek Revival style, the church is noted for its marble altars and a painting of Saint Louis venerating the Crown of Thorns given by Louis XVIII, King of France and Navarre. Engraved in gold over the entrance to the church are the words “In honorem s. Ludovici. Deo uni et trino dicatum. A. MDCCCXXXIV,” which translates as “In honor of St. Louis. Dedicated to the one and triune God. A.D. 1834.”. The word “Yahweh” also is inscribed in Hebrew above the engraving on the main entrance.
The church basement has a number of artifacts associated with the history of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Louis, including a bell given to the church by the governor of the territory of Louisiana during the early 19th century. Bishop Joseph Rosati, who ordered the construction of the church, is interred in a vault underneath the sanctuary.

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  • Marky58

    hopefully they will restore the statuary to their original colors and not keep them white.

  • JohnB

    My only regret is their not restoring the high altar and tabernacle.

  • samizdat

    The MVVA plan was the worst, too.

  • samizdat

    Geez, ya’ just had to show pix of the cleared riverfront. *Sigh*

    “Replacement windows”! Aaaaach, et tu, Archdiocese? Taken in by the flim-flam of the marketing depts. at Pella and Marvin, are we? Fact: properly restored original windows with good storms equal, and sometimes EXCEED the performance of replacements. Not to mention that in all cases, wooden original windows are comprised of old growth wood, and the case of St. Louis, are generally fabricated from the cypress trees harvested from the forests of southern MO and IL. This makes them considerably more durable. As well, you don’t need to worry if the parts to repair your replacement will be available in the future.

    Jeebus H.

    • samizdat

      Even steel windows can be restored, in most cases.

    • Eric

      If I’m not mistaken, I believe that the current windows are themselves replacements. If I recall, dark stained glass windows were installed at some point. These were later removed in the last renovation in the 1960s when they attempted a quasi-historic restoration.

      • samizdat

        Aaah, that’s a shame. Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely good replacement products out there, but as a preservationist and an environmentalist (amongst other such conceits), I will naturally prefer the original.

  • Don

    Love the photos. It’s hard for me to picture the basilica as a part of a street scape with buildings on all sides.

  • kuan

    Fantastic photos of downtown – where did you get them?

  • Mark S.

    About time! I was tired of looking at that dirty old pink carpet and very happy they are restoring the original wooden floor. So many tourists visit before or after they visit the Arch. It is such a beautiful church and has needed restoration for quite some time. I’m happy someone is helping to preserve St. Louis history. Besides the Arch, it provides a beautiful “welcome” to St. Louis to both tourists and citizens of this great city!

  • bethspelagio

    So the Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Louis can build stunningly beautiful churches and restore them completely with private donations. I hope the Missouri government and St. Louis City Hall are taking notes.

    The bottom line is that restoration of our historical buildings, monuments, and river-front can be done with mostly private means.

    • Alex Ihnen

      In some regards the Archdiocese is unique. It doesn’t seem to make sense to assume, based on this renovation, that individual historic homes, massive warehouses, etc. can be restored only using private funds – that is, absent Historic Tax Credits.

      • bethpelagio

        Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the use of historic tax credits. I just think that it’s disappointing that the river-front plan was scaled down so much. I firmly believe that donations could have been found for the original plans. I believe St. Louis needs to begin thinking bigger.

    • This is a refreshing perspective. As a professional in the historic preservation field, I heartily agree with this bottom-line — and it fits the dominant history of preservation in St. Louis. The Field House, Campbell House, Chatillon-DeMenil House, Bissell Mansion, Kraus House, Mullanphy Emigrant House and well as hundreds of buildings around the region have been saved without any public funds. In fact, public funding for decades was the tool by which our historic built environment was systematically destroyed.

      Historic tax credits are an incredible tool, but when making repairs to any historic building one must always use the right tool. When I rehabilitated a house in Old North, I wanted greater flexibility in the plan and decided against using historic tax credits. Many of my clients use historic tax credits. Some don’t — they either don’t need them or don’t want to use them.

      The common denominators for successful preservation efforts are calculated risk, personal responsibility and leveraged social capital. Public funding can enhance those elements but never create or replace them.