The site at Westminster Place and Taylor Avenue is the third location of Second Presbyterian Church. The building 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 use of multiple arches
Large rough-cut stones
Decorative stone carving
Terra cotta roofing tile
The patterns in the border and capital carvings found on the arches are repeated in the interior of the church.
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.
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. Click here to learn more about the Tiffany Stained Glass Windows.
The long, tiled aisle makes the church a popular location for weddings. 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. See more details about the Schanz organ here.
The room between the sanctuary and the front door, the Narthex, is 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 Memorial Hall and includes a pew and an ornate chair that date to the late 1800s when the congregation worshiped 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 – as 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 Congregations United (MCU) is housed here on the third floor.
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 the Choir Room, directly above it. The Portrait Lounge is used for the Adult Christian Forum meetings on Sunday mornings. There have been only twelve 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 the Portrait Lounge.
A Hospitality Room adjacent to Niccolls Hall was added during the capital campaign in 2006. The air conditioning system was replaced, the floors and roof were refurbished, damaged glass panes were repaired, the church office was relocated, and the Activity Room was renovated.
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 intramural 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 it was restored to a working gymnasium to serve the congregation and the community.