In Milwaukee History

The Big Red Church is facing pricey repairs.

Big Red Church needs a boost

Readers who follow my Urban Spelunking adventures can surely tell that I'm a big fan of architect Henry Koch, whose highest-profile Milwaukee works include City Hall, The Pfister, Gesu Church, the Ward Theater and chapel at the Old Soldiers Home and schools like Golda Meir and Eighth Street.

Koch's first building here in his hometown, however, was the Neo-Gothic Big Red Church, officially called Calvary Presbyterian, 935 W. Wisconsin Ave. And it needs our help.

Like many churches in the city – including the historic St. James just a couple doors east, which recently closed its doors forever – Calvary suffers from a dangerous cocktail of a small congregation and a money-hungry old building.

Though its exterior was completely renovated in 1998 and its interior is a popular destination for arts lovers (there is a theater in the building), folks who enjoy the thoughtful, deliberate walk through the labyrinth in the sanctuary and those seeking spiritual nourishment.

The building – you can read about my spelunking visit here – is used for weddings, meetings, retreats, arts events and more. But it's in need.

The church needs a new roof, tuckpointing and painting work, and stained glass window repairs. Because it is committing to preserving the environment, the church also hopes to add a green roof, solar panels, stormwater containment systems and eco-friendly landscaping.

Here's what a recent release from the church's capital committee says:

"Critical exterior and interior repairs totaling $2 million are needed to preserve this historic building. As a beacon of resilience over generations of change, the Big Red Church must be preserved to connect a great city to its history. Our goal now is to keep this urban landmark open to the public for present and future generations.

"To remind ourselves of the urgency of this campaign, we can look to other cities that have lost landmark churches. When a historic church is also a cultural center and an ongoing resource to the community, something vital disappears if public accessibility is lost. Beautiful historic spaces have the power to draw people from far and wide, allowing unexpected connections and creative collaborations to occur. Preserving historic buildings like The Big Red Church is critical to keeping alive this dynamic and vital part of a city's inheritance."

Calvary is inviting people interested in helping to one of a series of 30-minute presentations about the campaign to save the church.

Those meetings are Jan. 19 (at noon), Jan. 28 (4:30 p.m.) and Jan. 30 (7 p.m.).

You can learn more here.

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