Saints Center for Culture & the Arts

Masonry endures the fire, does not burn

Jeff Wagner

This historic church was built from 1908-1910 in the Byzantine and Romanesque style with an Italian Baroque interior. Serving a Catholic parish in the Stuart area, it was once voted the most beautiful church in Iowa by the readers of The Des Moines Register. In 1995, an arsonist set the church on fire to, in his words, “take the heart and soul out of a small town”. After the fire, the parish elected to build a new church at a different location. Ruins sat abandoned for more than 12 years. In 2006 community leaders, fearing the collapse of their architectural icon, banded together to save the building and convert it into a community center for hosting concerts, school events, weddings, conferences and more.

Because walls were unprotected as it sat vacant, both interior and exterior masonry were cleaned and tuckpointed. To meet the National Parks Service Preservation Briefs, care was taken to find an exact match for the color, texture and strength of the new mortar so it would be indistinguishable from the original remaining mortar.Virtually all top brick coursings had to be reset, along with areas damaged from freeze thaw cycles. This repair work included fixing an archway that was dangerously close to failing. A portion of the limestone foundation wall that was removed to allow heavy equipment to enter the building for demolition, and openings into the limestone walls, where mechanical equipment once penetrated, were closed and reconstructed with hand selected matching stone pieces. Portions of interior brick and limestone were left exposed to highlight the beauty of the craftsmanship from 100 years ago allowing visitors to sense the way structural forces are carried from roof to foundation.

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