Friday, May 20, 2011

Demolition? Seriously???

While I was in Iowa this week photographing a project for Kerry Davis of Preservation Solutions, Kerry was told of a beautiful Catholic church located about 10 miles outside of Le Mars that the Diocese wants to demolish. Naturally, we had to go have a look.

The St. Joseph Church, built in 1924, sits literally in the middle of thousands of acres of farmland. And, to put a fine point on it, this is really the only thing wrong with the building.

In the early half of the 20th century it took far more people to manage farmland than it does today. Many farms were only 100 acres, and many hands were needed to work them. Filling a rural church of this size was not a problem then. Today the congregation is nearly non-existant.

So the Diocese solution is to demolish the building, which seems to me to make a sad situation even worse, but what do I know? Can there be adaptive re-use if there is no use needed? Would it be better to sell it and roll the dice on a new owner caring for it? Or is demolition now preferable to the slow demolition of neglect? Or maybe it could be moved? It's a real challenge but alternatives to demolition need to be explored, IMHO. Hopefully there's still time.

Artistic influences of the largely German-immigrant population are front and center in the highly detailed woodwork of the Dais. Wood from cigar boxes and other sources make up the hundreds of individual pieces which comprise the whole.


  1. Our family has had many family reunions, weddings, baptisms and attended masses in St. Joseph's - Neptune church and we've made lots of family memories there. It is also a huge part of our family heritage. A number of loved ones also lay to rest in the cemetary. We just had -what hopefully isn't the last time -another of the Sitzmann family reunions - knowing that this quaint little church on the prairie may not stand there the next time we come to pay our respects or want to get together. It was a bit of a bitter sweet celebration with the thought of this beloved church which may be torn down within the weeks to come. History is very important and it seems like now a days if it's "too old" - toss it out. I believe there are some things worth putting a little extra love, care, and time into - so future generations can better understand what our ancestors had to struggle through to give us the bountiful lives we live today. This church needs us now more than ever and the human race needs now more than ever to remember where we came from and how fortunate we are. This church represents more than just religion. It is a beacon of what human kindness can do even in the hardest of times.
    I was also shocked to hear how many people (born and raised in the area) aren't even aware the church is there. There are a few issues that need to be addressed and as always - funding is always an issue - but with the kindness and love from the community that this church helped to raise - I believe there is something that can be done to preserve what this church represents.

  2. Breaks my heart.

  3. the church is gorgeous inside. Why not make it a museum? logan, iowa has religious tourism. my in-laws always visit missions and churches when traveling. they just need to know where to go.