First Presbyterian congregation plans restoration of historic church
First Presbyterian Church of Orange is embarking on a campaign to raise more than $6 million for the restoration of the church built a century ago by Frances Ann Lutcher, the wife of a local timber baron.
The church plans to have the work completed by 2012 for the centennial anniversary of the building.
The restoration of the Lutcher Memorial Building will include removing all the stained glass windows, including the stained glass dome, and sending them to New Jersey. J&R Lamb Studio, which designed and made the windows, has been contracted to do the work, which will include taking the windows apart, cleaning them, then, putting them back with new lead. The windows will be shipped back to Orange for re-installation.
The firm ArchiTexas of Dallas will oversee repairs and renovation of the pink granite building on Green Avenue, which is a landmark in Orange.
One aspect of the outside of the building will change. The copper dome, installed in 1957 to stop water leaks through the stained glass, and to protect the glass artwork, will eventually be removed. A protective dome of clear, modern materials will be placed over the outside of the stained glass dome and sunlight will once again shine through the dome of 16 angel panels.
Mrs. Lutcher, wife of Henry Jacob Lutcher, one of the founders of the great Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co. of Texas and Louisiana, built the church. Construction started in 1908 and the church was dedicated in 1912. She never revealed the cost of the building to anyone. Bills were sent to the lumber mill’s comptroller in a code.
During a visit to the church in 2005, Donald Samick, who has owned Lamb’s for more than 40 years, said the company still had copies of the bills, but no one today knows the code. Last year, the archives of Lamb Studio were placed with the Library of Congress; so Mrs. Lutcher’s coded bills are now there.
The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has a Texas historical marker.
Mrs. Lutcher was inspired to hire Lamb Studio after she and her daughters, Miriam Stark and Carrie Brown, attended the 1893 Columbian Exposition world’s fair in Chicago. Three of Lamb’s windows won a top art prize at the fair and Mrs. Lutcher bought the windows for the church she dreamed of building. Lamb’s stored the windows, which are now on the second floor and face Green Avenue. The middle of the three is “Religion” with the east window symbolizing “The Church Militant” and the west window symbolizing “The Church Triumphant.”
She hired James Oliver Hogg of Kansas City, Missouri, as the architect for her church, which was built in the Greek Revival style made popular by the Chicago world’s fair. The granite came from Llano, Texas, while the marble was cut from living stone in Italy.
Most of the stained glass windows, which tell the story of Jesus Christ, are based on famous 19th century paintings or illustrations.
The upstairs sanctuary windows tell the story of Jesus through “The Annunciation,” “The Holy Family” (manger scene), “Jesus in the Temple” (as a 12-year-old), “The Good Shepherd,” “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream,” and “The Ascension.”
Mrs. Lutcher did not want crucifixes in her church, so “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream,” based Matthew 27:19, depicts Christ’s pending crucifixion.
The glass dome has 16 angelic figures depicting Christian symbols. Hurricane Rita in 2005 blew the exterior copper dome askance and windows and debris broke a few small holes in the stained glass. Though the copper dome has been repaired, the stained glass dome still has the holes and dirt left from the storm.
Because the church was planning the restoration, the hurricane repairs to the windows were delayed until the full restoration.
The downstairs of the building, used in more recent years as a fellowship hall, has pull-down wooden dividers to allow for individual Sunday school rooms. Four windows downstairs portray the life of Jesus as a boy and as a friend to children. The windows are “The Flight into Egypt,” “Madonna with Jesus and St. John,” “Jesus in the Carpenter’s Shop” and “Jesus (as an adult) Blessing the Children.”
The windows, created in layers to have the depth and tones of paintings, do not open. So in the early 1900s, Mrs. Lutcher arranged to have her church in hot, humid Orange have air conditioning. Orange’s electrical supply at the time could not run an air conditioning system, so Mrs. Lutcher built a two-story power plant behind the church and hired an engineer to operate the plant.
That building, called “The Power House” by the congregation, has been used in past decades for youth groups and other purposes.
On Sunday, the congregation will have the kick-off to “Journey to 2012: Renew, Restore, Revive” with a family night supper. Members will have pledge cards for the restoration. The church is also asking former members and people with past connections to First Presbyterian, including former students of the Day School, to donate to the project.
In December, the church is having a homecoming weekend for former members who have moved.