Christ the King Maintains Original Glory

On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA

HOUSE OF WORSHIP: Christ the King Church, 1520 S. Rockford Ave., was built in the 1920s by Francis Barry Byrne, who was a leading Catholic architect at that time and had served as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. The church was considered contemporary for its time, with a strong Art Deco flavor and a subtle Gothic influence.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

Christ the King Catholic Church is one of Tulsa’s architectural treasures. Located at 1520 S. Rockford Ave., the church is part of a complex of buildings, which include Marquette School, a rectory, a parish hall and parish offices, a chapel, and an early childhood development center.

The church replaced a smaller red brick building built in 1918, known as Sacred Heart Catholic Church. In 1924, Francis Clement Kelley, who previously served the church in Chicago, hired the respected Chicago architect Francis Barry Byrne to design a new church. Byrne began his career as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright (working his way up to a partnership in Wright’s firm) as a solo practitioner and had previously designed St. Thomas the Apostle in Chicago and St. Patrick’s in Racine, Wisconcin. He was one of the leading Catholic architects of his day.

Christ the King was a startling contemporary church even for the 1920s era of rapid change; to some, it resembled a castle. It had no tower and no dome common in religious buildings of the time. Its basic footprint is a box-like basilica shape, wider than it is long. In accordance with church tradition, the congregation faces east during worship. The church has a strong Art Deco flavor with a subtle Gothic influence.

The exterior and interior walls are brick, laid with intricate corbeling and detail. At the exterior, a parapet and finials of beige terra cotta emphasize verticality. At the interior, the floors are terrazzo with inlaid marble designs. Although the exterior is uniformly buff brick, the interior walls are adroitly executed in contrasting red and buff brick colors, worked out in simple paneling with false quoins. The ceiling is of dark, polished wood, which slopes from a ridge at the center. Slender wood beams articulate this ceiling as they terminate between the five stained glass windows at the north and south walls. Byrne designed the pendent lighting that resemble torches and was made by the Empire Chandelier Company.

The carved limestone altar has deep horizontal flutings. Behind the altar is a large mosaic of Christ the King by Ernst Frei Inc. of St. Louis. Behind the two side altars at the front of the church are mosaics designed by Bruce Goff, an apprentice architect at the time for the Tulsa firm of Rush Endicott and Rush.

The 10 stained glass windows, fabricated by the Temple Art Glass Co. of Chicago, were done under the direction of the artist, Alfonso Iannelli. (He later would be involved in the artwork at Tulsa Spotlight Theatre.) These compliment the church’s name, Christ the King. The five windows on the south side illustrate kingly persons from the Bible (two from the Old Testament and three from the New Testament). The five windows on the north side depict Christian Kings who are canonized Saints.
The church was dedicated in 1928 although the altar mosaic was not yet completed. It was an inspiring backdrop for almost 500 worshipers. Change due to time and religious doctrine has been minimal at Christ the King; the years have brought little remodeling. Air conditioning and a sound system have been added along with three accent spotlight fixtures above the altar. Vatican II resulted in an adjustment to the height of the floor at the altar area, along with a repositioning of the altar itself. Work is underway to modify these alterations. But in essence, the church retains the sensitive design provided by Barry Byrne

Updated 12-21-2015

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