Sunday, January 27, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 27

Bishop Candler  Opens New St. Paul’s Church Building in Houston, January 31, 1909

One of the most well known and historic Texas Methodist churches is St. Paul’s UMC in Houston.  Its cathedral style building is highly visible on South Main Street near the Texas Medical Center and the Museum District of Houston.  It is also near the Texas Conference offices at 5215 Main, and is often used for conference events. 
St. Paul’s had its origin at the Annual Conference of 1905 when Bishop Key appointed Rev. George Sexton of Galveston to organize a new church south of downtown Houston.   Houston was booming as a result of the petroleum discoveries nearby.  It was still the “Magnolia City” instead of the “Petroleum City,” but its growth trajectory was easy to predict. 

On Christmas Eve, 1905 Rev. Sexton led the first worship service in the City Auditorium, Main at McGowen.   Two weeks later Bishop Key came to preach and suggested that the working name, “South End” might not be appropriate and suggested “St. Paul’s”, facetiously suggesting that Paul was the first great Methodist Bishop.” 

After the church was organized, one of the first orders of business was to appoint a building committee.  Jesse H. Jones, already a prominent Houstonian with interesting in banking, construction, and publishing, was named chair of the building committee.  

The committee built a $225,000 building at McGowen and Milam, then a residential area.  The building combined several architectural traditions and building materials, including stone, bricks, and terra cotta.  

The building opening January 31, 1909 with Bishop Warren Candler preaching.  There were five stained glass windows, a Pilcher organ and a magnificent dome.   At the conclusion of the worship service Candler called on Sexton to give a financial report.  Sexton replied that they still owed $55,000, but they had $16,000 in reserve, leaving a true balance of $36,000.    Bishop Candler then announced that they would raise that balance that morning.  His appeal resulted in pledges of $23,000.
Under the four year rule then in place in the MECS, Sexton was appointed to Mt. Vernon Methodist in Washington, D. C. and J. Walter Mills was the pastor at St. Paul’s when the debt was finally paid off.  

Less than twenty years after its opening, plans began to move.   Under the pastorate of J. N. R. Score, a building committee was appointed to build an educational building.  

Jesse Jones, Walter Fondren, .J. M. West, Asa Reed, Dr. O. L. Norsworthy, and R. B. Walling constituted the Building Committee.  They recommended that St. Paul’s relocate.  The magnificent building was sold to Second Baptist Church and St. Paul’s moved to its present location.  The first service in the new building was held on Nov. 2, 1930—just 21 years after the opening of the prior building.  The new building, rather than being an eclectic mix of various architectural styles was truly one of the greatest examples of cathedral architecture in Texas if not the United States.  The architect was Albert C. Finn (1883-1964) who had been working with Jones since the construction of the Rice Hotel (1913). 

On a personal note---I volunteer as a docent for historic tours of Bellville.  Finn was born in Bellville, and part of the tour includes houses he designed and the carriage/blacksmith shop operated by his uncle.   The famous buildings he designed may be found in the New Handbook of Texas.


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