The congregation of Second Presbyterian Church was formed in 1838. 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 at Seventeenth Street, near the Campbell House Museum, where the congregation worshiped from 1870 until moving to its present location in 1896. The home of member Robert Campbell is the only surviving structure of that once fine neighborhood.
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.
In 1896 the first building on Westminster – the chapel – was completed. Morning services were held there until late in 1900, when the sanctuary was completed (at a cost of $200,000) and 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 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 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. The renovation efforts of 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 Schantz 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.