St. Mary's Church

 

Survey Number: HPS-235
Year Built: 1903
Architectural Style: Romanesque

THEME / CONTEXT
St. Mary's Church is associated with the context of Community Planning and Development. It falls under the theme of Ecclesiastical development - church.

HISTORIC ASSOCIATION
St. Mary's Church is significant as a prominent landmark in Tempe. This building was constructed to replace the earlier adobe chapel which served the Catholic community since 1881. The project was stimulated by Severinus Westhoff, O.F.M., a German immigrant who had come to the Tempe chapel in 1895, and who had started missions in both Scottsdale and Guadalupe. With the help of volunteer labor from both Mexican-American and Anglo community, the church was dedicated in 1903. Among the prominent citizens in Tempe who were originally involved in the church building project were John Curry, J. J. Hodnett, Winchester Miller, and J. T. Priest. The church was granted parish status in 1932, and was transferred to the Newman Club in 1962.

ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION
St. Mary's Church is a fine example of the Territorial Victorian Romanesque Revival architectural style. The work of making and firing the bricks was carried out about two miles from the construction site and the clay was hauled from Fort McDowell. The brick cutter from Tucson and the bricklayer from Phoenix were the principal specialists on the project.

SUMMARY
St. Mary's Church is significant as a prominent landmark in Tempe and as a representative example of Territorial Victorian Romanesque Revival architecture. The church retains a high degree of integrity from the time of its construction in 1902-1903. This building was constructed to replace an earlier adobe chapel which had served the Catholic community since 1881. The project was stimulated by Severinus Westhoff, O.F.M., a German priest who had come to the Tempe chapel in 1895, and who had started missions in both Scottsdale and Guadalupe. With the help of volunteer labor from both the Mexican-American and Anglo communities, the church was completed and dedicated in 1903.

Among the prominent citizens in Tempe who were originally involved in the church building project were John Curry, J .J. Hodnett, Winchester Miller, and James T. Priest. The work of making and firing the bricks was carried out about two miles from the construction site, and the clay was hauled from Fort McDowell. The brick cutter (from Tucson), and the bricklayer (from Phoenix), were the principal specialists on the project. The church was granted parish status in 1932, and was transferred to the Newman Club in 1962. In 1976, the Knights of Columbus raised funds to remodel the building to meet city codes. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

St. Mary’s Church is a one-story structure of locally-made, fired red brick. It is rectangular in plan with a steep gable roof sloping east and west. The gable at the front façade is interrupted by a centrally-located square extension bell tower which terminates in an eight-sided steeple roof. The first story of the building begins above grade; below grade the building is constructed of rusticated blocks of local vesicular basalt. The round-arched main door is approached by a single flight of concrete steps. A stained glass fanlight surmounts the double entry door. Above the main doorway on the central tower is a round window, and above this a small round-arched window. A larger round-arched belfry opening near the top is replicated on four sides of the tower. Five round-arched windows occur at regular intervals on the east and west facades, and two flank the entrance on the north and south facades. The interior is an open hall with a narrow vestibule and choir loft across the south (entry) end. A series of three plastered vaults are supported on round composite Corinthian pilasters. A basement, partly below grade, spans the entire length of the building, and is divided into a variety of meeting rooms. It is reached by an exterior stair on the west side and an interior stairway at the west end of the vestibule.

St. Mary's Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places since January 30, 1978

DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY

Tempe's Hispanic community, with the help of professional bricklayers, built the new church in 1903 and it was dedicated as St. Mary's Church in January of 1904. The parish continued to be served by the Franciscan priests of St. Mary's in Phoenix, until 1925, when Spanish priests from Immaculate Heart Church took over, visiting Tempe once or twice a month.

In 1932 the Bishop of Tucson, Daniel J. Gercke, announced a decree to erect a new movable parish to serve Tempe that would be named Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Church became the home of this parish, and Fr. James Davis was the first resident pastor. Between 1927-1941, the church was remodeled and a parish house built. Thereafter, a Catholic school and convent were also established. It was in the mid-1950s that a new school and rectory were built on Rural Road, and in 1968 a new church, which carried with it the name of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, was constructed at the Rural Road site. The "Old Church" passed into the care of the Newman Catholic Student Center. 

The 1960s saw considerable growth at Arizona State University.  In 1960, construction began on a two-story facility adjacent to Old St. Mary's Church. It was dedicated in 1962 and serves as the present-day hub of the ASU All Saints Newman Center community. Because the Old Church lacked proper heating and cooling, as well as access for persons with disabilities, regular celebration of Mass was moved from the Old Church to the Newman Center main chapel. (http://www.asucatholic.org/about-history.php)

SOURCES
Tempe 1997 Multiple Resource Area Update
Tempe Historic Property Survey HPS-235 Mount Carmel/St. Mary's Church
http://www.asucatholic.org/about-history.php

LINKS
Tempe Historical Museum Oral Histories OH – 05 PETE ESTRADA (June 7, 1973)