Sunday, May 05, 2013

Resurrection in Stuart

The restoration and adaptive reuse of what once was All Saints Catholic Church in Stuart, a small town of roughly 1,500 on the Guthrie-Adams county line just west of Des Moines, is one of Iowa's major preservation success stories. It also has some relevance to Lucas County because architect Kirk Blunck and Koester Construction Co., now leading the Hotel Charitone project, also were principals in the All Saints project.

This all came to mind earlier this week when I kind of stumbled on the Web site for the Saints Center for Culture and the Arts, the grand old building in its current incarnation. You can learn more about the church and its restoration at Restore All Saints, an older site with historic video and numerous photographs of the church, its destruction and restoration.

The grand building, completed during 1910, was designed for the All Saints Parish in the Neo-Byzantine style, rare in Iowa. It had seating capacity of 600 under a 90-foot dome in a sanctuary decorated with  marble, rare woods, frescoes, elaborate stained glass and statuary.

The deranged Charles Willard, of Des Moines, set the structure alight on Aug. 22, 1995, after mailing letters to the Diocese of Des Moines and a television station expressing his hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. He later was convicted of arson and a hate crime. The main building was entirely gutted although a small chapel survived with less damage.

The fate of the old building was the subject of considerable debate after the parish and diocese decided to rebuild elsewhere rather than restore it. Eventually, the remains were sold for $7,200 to the Project Restore Foundation, which concentrated on stabilizing the main structure and restoring the small chapel.

As time passed, the city of Stuart passed a bond issue to aid in restoration and grant funding supplemented by private donations made the $4 million finished product, completed during 2010, possible. No attempt was made to recreate the elaborate interior; instead, the emphasis was on restoring the integrity of the space.

The All Saints project, along with ongoing restoration of Burlington's First United Methodist Church, also gutted by an arsonist's fire, probably are the best examples in Iowa of creative reuse of spaces that once seemed entirely lost, so the All Saints Web sites are worth a look for those interested in preservation.

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