CINCINNATI - To visit the former St. George Roman Catholic Church in Clifton Heights is to visit a time when buildings were not only functional, but works of art.
As you walk through the enormous sanctuary and its attached friary, or home for Franciscan friars, you see beauty everywhere, even in the ornate grillwork of the screens that hid the radiators.
There are even multi-colored carvings on the risers between the steps in the staircases.
“They (the builders) took it to the nth degree,” said Jeff Pearson, project manager for Platte Architecture + Design. “This was a celebration of God.”
Platte is doing the architectural work for Crossroads Church, which purchased St. George last year for $871,000 and is renovating it as its next satellite campus.
The first service is scheduled for mid-August.
St. George is quite different from the big-box stores that Crossroads, the Tri-state area’s largest church, has renovated for its other campuses.
The church, which was built in 1873, was designed by architect Samuel Hannaford, who also designed City Hall and Music Hall. The attached friary/rectory was added in 1927.
WATCH archive video: Old St. George fire of 2008
Although Crossroads plans to use it as a church, it has taken some doing to make the 40,000-square-foot complex into the kind of church Crossroads members are used to.
“It’s been about opening up the building as much as possible,” Pearson said. “Crossroads is about community and interaction.”
For example, Crossroads likes the lobbies outside its sanctuaries to be as large as the sanctuary itself, Pearson said. That wasn’t possible at St. George because the sanctuary is so big — 9,400 square feet, including the balcony.
But by knocking down walls and combining rooms, the architects made a fairly large entrance hall, with an adjacent coffee-service room. They have also made an opening from the entrance hall to the church courtyard, to provide additional gathering space in fair weather.
At Crossroads’ satellite campuses, a band provides live music and the campus minister welcomes the worshipers. But the sermon is normally given live at the main campus in Oakley, then projected onto video screens at the satellite campuses.
The sanctuary is normally a windowless performing arts center, Pearson said, but that wasn’t possible to create at St. George, because Crossroads wanted to preserve the sanctuary’s eight stained-glass windows that depict Bible scenes.
Instead, he said, the windows will have elaborate, motorized curtains that will cover them during services and black out 90 percent of the light.
Before renovations began, sounds inside the sanctuary echoed for a long time, Pearson said. But now, sound-dampening material has been added to the walls to kill the echo.
The lower halves of the eight steel columns that support the sanctuary’s 55-foot vaulted roof are now surrounded by black metal cages, which can be used to mount audiovisual equipment.
WATCH time lapse video of the construction below:
The windows have been cleaned of the smoke damage they suffered when fire destroyed the spires in 2008.
The church’s two spires are being replaced with modern versions, a steel frame clad in perforated aluminum that will appear translucent in daylight but internally lit at night.
The steeples won’t have bells, as the original ones did, but one of the original bells will be displayed in the church courtyard, Pearson said.
The exterior of the church looks better than it has in years; all the masonry between bricks has been chiseled out and replaced.
Kurt Platte, the owner of Platte Architecture + Design, has worshipped at Crossroads’ main campus in Oakley since it opened in 2000, but plans to make St. George his new church home.
More impressive than the architecture here is its history of meaning to members of the community, he said. “Since we’ve worked on this building, almost everyone we talk to has a story connected to it.”