Architecture. Richard Upjohn s Church

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1 Architecture Immediately after organizing St. Mark s Church in 1858, Episcopalians in San Antonio set out to erect a building. No matter that San Antonio was a rowdy frontier outpost reached only by a tortuous overland route from the Texas Gulf Coast. In their enthusiasm, St. Mark s members would settle only for the nation s leading church architect Richard Upjohn in New York City. St. Mark s became Upjohn s only building in Texas and one of his few, west of the Mississippi. The St. Mark s cornerstone was laid in 1859 and the church was completed sixteen years later. Additions during the next century maintained Gothic Revival traditions. The church complex, an architectural landmark, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the state s leading architects, all based in San Antonio, contributed to the growing complex. English-born Alfred Giles designed a parish hall in In the next decade his son, E. Palmer Giles, and Kurt D. Beckmann designed its much larger replacement. Atlee B. Ayres advised on redecorating the nave, including the short-lived addition of a rood screen, in Henry J. Steinbomer designed a narthex extending the nave and added a cloistered walkway and a tower, finished in The firm of Ford, Powell & Carson planned a major renovation of the parish house, completed in Richard Upjohn s Church Richard Upjohn ( ) established his reputation as designer of Trinity Church (1839) at the head of Wall Street in New York City. He has been described

2 as having been less an architect who happened to be an Episcopalian than an Episcopalian who happened to be an architect. The devout designer became the nation s leading proponent of Gothic Revival architecture for churches, harking back to medieval cathedrals but in a form termed Ecclesiological Gothic, intended to purify Gothic by applying principles of the earliest Christian churches. One such reform tenet was that the apse of a church point east so the congregation would face the rising sun, symbolic of Christ as the deliverer of new light, even though a dramatic exterior entrance may have to be sacrificed. St. Mark s was being built across from Travis Park on the south. Thus the drama of a main entrance would be diminished by having to be part of the south side of a church that must be oriented to the east. St. Mark s would not have a dramatic front tower facade such as that of a similarly designed but larger Upjohn church of the same period, Grace Episcopal Church (1856) in Utica, New York. For nearly a century St. Mark s would have to make do without a tower at all, its bell hung instead in a more economical if distinctive stone bell cote rising above the sacristy. St. Mark s differs from other major Upjohn churches in a more significant way. For his churches the architect preferred narrow lancet windows, which not only limited interior light to enhance a sense of reverence but also helped keep in heat in cold weather. San Antonio s hot summers presented the opposite situation. Thus for the nave of St. Mark s Upjohn designed broad windows, each comprised of three sections below quatrefoil groupings separated not by mullions of the apparently intended stone but of more economical cypress. Below the sills were three narrow openings equipped with wooden louvers that could be opened for cross ventilation at the level of the pews, coincidentally providing an unusual lightness in the interior. Following installation of ceiling fans and air conditioning the deep lower openings were eventually sealed, and now enclose columbarium niches. Otherwise, the exterior of the church is Upjohn s vintage Gothic Revival. Simple walls of locally quarried ashlar limestone blocks are supported by narrow buttresses topped three-fourths of the way up by angled stone caps. Buttresses nearest the apse were made deeper to enclose flues for interior stoves,

3 and originally had ventilating cupolas. Doorways and windows were framed in refined cut-stone sills and hood molds. Inside, the church has a basilica plan. Pews on either side of a central aisle are flanked by side aisles and then narrower rows of pews along exterior walls. Upjohn s characteristic steep gable roof over the nave is supported as it breaks to a lesser pitch at the sides by slender octagonal wooden columns that support Upjohn s characteristically dramatic timber arcading and trussing, which encompass numerous quatrefoil designs. Similar trussing converges over the seven-sided chancel, its five narrow lancet windows symbolizing Christ and his evangelists. The St. Mark s chancel represents a midpoint in Upjohn s evolving design, between the flat chancel of Trinity Church and the deep chancels of his churches after the 1860s which could accommodate large choirs. Upjohn s firm also designed a line of ecclesiastical furniture. The substantial original walnut rector s and bishop s chairs in the chancel at St. Mark s resemble those designs, but cannot be conclusively linked to Upjohn. The carved walnut altar was added in 1881, the black walnut lectern with its carved eagle in The three-panel Gothic reredos atop the altar was carved by Charles Werner in Decorative parquet flooring in the chancel was laid in the 1880s. The raised mahogany pulpit was carved by the fifth rector, Walter R. Richardson. Modifications and Additions The most visible interior changes to the front of the church are the triptych organ screens on either side of the chancel, above walnut doors into side exits from the communion rail. The door on the north, carved by Kurt Beckmann, was added in The one on the south, providing passage through the

4 sacristy, was made thirty years later, when installation of new organ pipes in 1959 required raising the original sacristy roof. At that point the screens were installed and walnut paneling was added around the lower walls of the chancel. A significant construction project completed in 1949 included covering the former ventilation louvers below the nave windows indoors with wood paneled central air conditioning and heating ventilation units, angled at the top. Space for additional pews was created by sealing rear outdoor entrances on the north and south walls and eliminating cross traffic. The doorways were replaced with compatible stained glass windows and ventilation units. The 1949 project was under the direction of Henry J. Steinbomer ( ), a prolific church architect also noted for his pioneering work in historic preservation. The major part of his work involved creating a new main entrance to the church. With the side doorways sealed, three doorways would open through the high exterior back wall into a new adjoining one-story narthex. On the same axis as the central aisle through the nave, an outdoor entrance from the narthex opened to a cloistered walkway connecting with a new entrance into the parish hall complex. The north side of the walkway was sealed in 1951 by the south wall of the sixty-seat Bethlehem Chapel, also designed by Steinbomer. The south side opens onto a courtyard. The main exterior entry into the narthex was designed through the base of a sixty-four foot Gothic tower appended at the southwest corner of the church. Steinbomer s tower, like the narthex exterior, was of ashlar limestone block construction that blended seamlessly with the appearance and style of the original church. Further continuity occurred in two upper walls of the new tower, where Steinbomer placed original lancet windows removed from the lower wall of the church during addition of the narthex. Parish House Complex The four-story parish house complex of brick construction with limestone trim was completed in It was designed by the firm of Giles & Beckmann in the Collegiate Gothic style then in vogue on college campuses. Collegiate Gothic blended harmoniously with the church s less decorative Ecclesiastical Gothic, which emphasized worship and reverence. The auditorium building on the north of the parish house complex had narrow exterior buttresses complementing those on the church, though these ended above the roofline with decorative Gothic finials. The adjoining education building had extending multi-story bays with diamond-pane leaded windows. Facing the church on the east, an exterior Palladianstyle stone stairway could be entered from opposite directions

5 before its segments joined and rose to the thenprimary second story entrance. Two narrow buildings adjoining the far side were cobbled to the parish house after being purchased by St. Mark s in the 1950s. With the exception of an exuberant Spanish Colonial Revival street entrance, the additions were razed when the parish house was renovated and expanded onto their site in the major renovation completed in 2008 under direction of the architectural firm of Ford, Powell & Carson. In the 2008 project, the exterior kept its original appearance. Rebuilding of the interior included creation of a central atrium allowing light into the interior. Balcony areas in the auditorium building s assembly area were removed to create a spacious crosstimbered ceiling for the new Gosnell Hall. Outside, the narrow north lawn that had been cleared for parking in the 1970s became a courtyard enclosed by limestone block walls and iron grillwork. Addition of a low fountain enhanced the contemplative mood of the area.

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