The congregation of Second Presbyterian Church was formed in 1839 and its first building was located downtown at Fifth and Walnut on a parcel of land purchased from Pierre Chouteau. The second location of the congregation was in the then-fashionable Lucas Place neighborhood, near the Campbell House Museum, where the congregation worshipped from 1870 until moving to its present location in 1896.
The church was designed by German-born American architect Theodore Link, who was also the architect of several other landmark structures including the St Louis Union Station. The exterior of the building features architectural details typical of the Romanesque Revival style that was in vogue in the late 1800s, specifically:
The patterns in the border and capital carvings found on the arches are repeated in the interior of the church. The original cost of the sanctuary was $200,000 and the congregation first worshipped here upon its completion in 1900.
The site at Westminster Place and Taylor Avenue is the third location of Second Presbyterian Church, founded in 1838. From 1840 to 1870 it was housed in a Greek Revival structure at Fifth (Broadway) and Walnut Streets. In 1870 it relocated to the western end of fashionable Lucas Place at Seventeenth Street. (The home of member Robert Campbell is the only surviving structure of that once fine neighborhood.) In 1896 the first building on Westminster - the chapel - was completed. Morning services were held there until late in 1900, when the sanctuary was dedicated. By 1929 the Sunday School had outgrown its quarters in the chapel building and plans were made to erect an educational building to the west.
A successful fund-raising campaign (which coincided with the stock market crash of that year) resulted in the third building on the site. The years following World War II brought a declining neighborhood and loss of membership as members moved to the suburbs. After two unsuccessful attempts to find another location the congregation voted in 1961 to stay on its corner and be a city church. With the historic preservation movement of the 1970s came a realization of the architectural and artistic significance of the buildings. Plans for renovation were made but could not be carried out until 1985-87. A recent capital campaign effort has made possible further building improvements.
The chapel and sanctuary are Romanesque Revival style, which had its origins in medieval Spain and France who in turn had borrowed it from the ancient Romans. It enjoyed a revival in the last half of the nineteenth century brought about by the great Boston architect, Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), a leading exponent of the style. His great masterpiece is Trinity Church in Boston, listed on the American Institute of Architects list of the 10 most interesting buildings in the US. Characteristic of the style is the use of heavy rounded arches set on low piers, massive cut stone, recessed windows and doorways, intricate stone carvings, and rounded or four-sided turrets and towers. Second Presbyterian is considered a prime example of the pure style: it closely resembles Trinity Church but on a much smaller, more restrained, scale.
Following Richardson's death in 1886 at the age of 47, his firm became Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. Shepley had strong ties to St. Louis and had opened an office here. It was to this firm that the church turned for its architect. The chapel was completed in 1896 and housed the "Lecture Room," Sunday School, offices, janitors' quarters, and a dining room and kitchen. In 1930 the construction of the educational building largely obscured the exterior so that only the south and a portion of the east facades are visible. The "Lecture Room" was also remodeled and no trace of the original remains.
In 1899 the Shepley firm was no longer active in St. Louis and the church turned to Theodore Link of St. Louis to design the sanctuary. His most famous work is the St. Louis Union Station (1894).
By 1929 the Sunday School had outgrown its quarters and other improvements were needed as well. The new facility was completed in 1930 and included new offices, a pastor's study, a gymnasium on the fourth floor and a new kitchen and dining room. An especially attractive feature is a wood-paneled room called the "Portrait Lounge" where oil paintings of former pastors hang.
The renovation efforts of 1985-87 focused on creating large spaces for creative, corporate usage. The chancel area of the sanctuary was extended and thrust forward; pew seating was reconfigured; acoustical tile was removed from the ceiling; new lighting was installed; and walls were colored to enhance the colors of the collection of Tiffany windows. Pews and cork flooring were removed from the chapel to create a flexible space for church and community functions. In 1995, the chapel was renamed Niccolls Hall to commemorate the 50 years of service of Pastor Samuel Niccolls (1865-1915). In 2004 much needed repairs were been made to the facility's cooling plant.
In 2010, the session decided on a much needed renovation of the sanctuary, including the Shantz organ. Esley Hamilton, a St. Louis County architectural historian, provided the renovation committee with the following information:
I am old enough to have lived through at least two generations of designers who have seen historic buildings as canvases for their own "current" ideas, and in case after case I have seen those ideas grow stale with age. Second Presbyterian is a perfect example of those cycles. Taste is cyclical, and the more fashionable a given taste is, the faster it will go out of style. That is why it is almost always best to stick with the original designer's intention, especially when the designer was somebody whose reputation has stood the test of time, as Theodore Link's has. If you opt for yet another contemporary intervention this time, your congregation will find itself going through this again in another twenty years. If you return to Link's original designs now (assuming that documentation makes that possible), you will not have to change again, and you will find that appreciation for the building will grow over time.
The renovation consisted of painting, new lighting, a completely new sound system and organ renewal. The architectural firm of Powers-Bowersox Associates, Inc. was chosen to oversee this project. Peter Wollenberg, a St. Louis building conservationist, helped with the research and color selection for the walls and trim, Koch Brothers Decorating, Inc., was hired to oversee both the project's construction management and the painting of the sanctuary. Skilled artisans completed the painting.
Randy Burkett Lighting Design, Inc. was responsible for improving the lighting throughout the sanctuary. Ace Electrical Solutions and Tech Electronics were employed to oversee the installation of lighting. Designed Acoustic, Inc. recommended the new sound system and ultimately worked with Tech to complete the task. Howard Johnson, a local upholsterer, was employed to recover the pew and chair cushions.
The renovation began in May of 2012 and the congregation was back in the Sanctuary by September of 2012. The organ returned a few months later.
Second Presbyterian is well known for its unique collection of stained glass windows. Thirteen of the windows are from the Tiffany Company, and reflect the artistry of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Our windows show a number of features typical of the Tiffany style:
Drapery glass is made in the glassmaster's studio by working molten glass with tongs to create a thick and thin texture, the resulting glass looking like natural folds of fabric.
Tiffany himself was not especially interested in religion, so he based the designs of these windows on images found in Sunday School books and other biblical illustrations, such as the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the woman at the well, and the visitation to the empty tomb. There are also several windows constructed in the Tiffany style, by the Cincinnati Church Window Company, and by the St Louis artisan Emil Frei, of which the Emil Frei Associates, Inc. is still in existence in St Louis today. All of the windows that flank the walls of the sanctuary date from the early 1900s.
There are three large and dramatic windows in the front of the church that deserve particular attention:
To the right of the Chancel - directly above the triptych of the burial and ascension of Jesus. When the Ascension window was removed for cleaning during the 1987 renovations the congregation noticed for the first time the green fields of Jerusalem found at the bottom of the scene, which had previously been obscured by soot when St Louis had been a coal-burning city. At the end of each day, the halo surrounding Christ's head is the last feature to fade to darkness.
In the Chancel, where worship is led on Sunday mornings - commissioned by Mrs. Clay Jordan in 1922. In front of this window and directly above the Table for Communion hangs a Celtic Cross, a reminder of the Scottish roots of the denomination, that was commissioned by Mr. William Orthwein.
To the left of the Chancel - a memorial window dedicated to Jackson Johnson, a son of the Johnson Shoe Company, who died in World War I. The windows in this west transept are the only ones in the sanctuary that are back-lit, whereas the rest of the windows are lit only by outside sunlight.
The MacIvor Window is in the center of the church in the back, above the organ, was designed in medieval style by Charles Connick of Boston, and is in memory of Rev. John W. MacIvor, pastor of this congregation from 1916 to 1944.
The sanctuary is in cruciform, or cross-shaped, design with a long center section and two transepts, or cross pieces. At the point of the crossing is a high area called the Lantern. The Chancel is the raised area in the front where Worship is led on Sunday mornings. Throughout the sanctuary are architectural details embedded in the stone columns, incorporated into the "transom" part of the stained glass windows, and carved into the pews, similar to the patterns carved into the stone arches at the entrance to the church.
The banners hanging on either side of the Chancel were commissioned in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the congregation's location on this corner in the Central West End in 1996, and they were made by St Louis quilting artist Marianne Oxboe. The banner on the left depicts "the living cross," a symbol of the involvement of the church in the community. The banner on the right, a series of different sized circles, is a representation of "the ever-changing world" to which the church must respond. The paraments on the pulpit (left) and lecturn (right) continue the colors and motifs of the bigger banners. There are also special banners for the various church seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.
The long, tiled aisle makes the church a popular location for weddings, and the pipe organ, a four manual 60 rank Schantz, was installed in 1965. It contains 3,304 pipes, ranging in size from just a few inches to 16 feet long.
The room between the sanctuary and the front door is called the Narthex, decorated by photographs of the church's life over the past century. Theodore Roosevelt attended worship here while visiting the World's Fair in 1904, and General Dwight Eisenhower and Mrs. Eisenhower attended during the presidential campaign of 1952. The room between the sanctuary and Niccolls Hall is called the Session Room and includes pews and an ornate chair that date to the late 1800s when the congregation worshipped in its Lucas Place location.
Niccolls Hall is named after Rev. Dr. Samuel J. Niccolls who led the congregation from 1865 to 1915. There is a bust of Dr. Niccolls in the Hall. The room itself served as the chapel or worship space for the congregation from 1896 until the sanctuary construction was completed in 1900. Today it is used for smaller services, such as during the Lenten season; for special events, such as dinner theatres; and for the hospitality and fellowship time after Sunday's worship service.
Niccolls Hall has been remodeled several times in its history. Originally the room extended to the south and north walls and was surrounded by a gallery above on three sides. The pulpit and communion table were located along the west wall. Gallery seating was common in St Louis churches in the 1800s; since coal was burned for fuel and the heavy coal dust descended, it was easier to keep fine clothing clean if one sat above the ground floor. The pulpit and flanking chairs in the chancel area date back to 1900.
The stained glass windows in this room were made by Emil Frei, the St Louis glass artisan. The polychrome painting on the ceiling was added in 1930 and later cleaned and restored in 1987. The chandeliers were originally gas and when electricity was added they were turned upside down to accommodate light bulbs. They match the style and material of the large lanterns outside on the front steps of the sanctuary.
Most recently, needlepoint tapestries were installed in the Hospitality Center that adjoins Niccolls Hall. These tapestries were designed by Pat Neilson, a member of the congregation, and stitched by eleven members of the congregation.
The Education building was added in the 1930s, a particularly ambitious building project since it occurred during the Great Depression. This addition created several classrooms for Sunday School, a recreation area for the senior high youth, and a large Activity Room for children, which was recently remodeled during which the Nursery was moved to this area from the third level. The Education Building also houses the church office and several meeting rooms, as well as a large dining room and kitchen on the lower level. Over the years the church has been a host for several neighborhood and community service organizations, including Head Start and Habitat for Humanity. Currently the main office for Metropolitan Churches United (MCU) is housed here.
The Portrait Lounge, an elegant wood-paneled room, was known as "the Ladies Parlor" when it was first constructed, and there is also a second parlor, now called "the Upper Room" directly above it. The Portrait Lounge is used for the Adult Christian Forum meetings on Sunday mornings and the Upper Room is used by the Session, the elected governing board of the church. There have been only eleven pastors in the life of this congregation, and it has been a tradition to commission a portrait of each pastor to honor their service; these portraits now adorn both the Portrait Lounge and the Upper Room.
A Hospitality Room was added during the most recent capital campaign in 2006, adjacent to Niccolls Hall, during which the congregation raised money to replace the air conditioning system, refurbish the floors and roof, repair damaged glass panes, relocate the church office, renovate the Activity Room, and strengthen the building endowment.
The Education Building expansion in 1930 also included a full gymnasium on the third floor, complete with lockers and showers, a viewing gallery, and basketball hoops and floor. At one time this room was used for intermural sports, as a place for neighborhood children to come after school, and for youth special events. Recently the church was provided with a designated gift for the renovation of this space, as it had fallen into disrepair through disuse, and plans are currently underway to restore it to a working gymnasium to serve the congregation and the community.