St. Francis Xavier Church Features Mission Style

On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA

KENDALL-WHITTIER COMMUNITY: St. Francis Xavier Church is a mission revival style Catholic Church that sits in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood at 2434 E. Admiral Blvd. The church was built in 1948 in the post WWII years. It is a classic example of maximizing the space in a simple rectangular plan and finishing it with low maintenance attractive materials.

ROSSY GILLE for GTR Newspapers

Just before noon several years ago, as I approached the building site for one of my residential projects, my ears rang with upbeat Hispanic music. When I got to the site, the framing crew had a boom box connected to a construction generator along with a grill rapidly cooking an assortment of tasty tamales. The superintendent for this project was bilingual by necessity. Without a doubt, hardworking Hispanics have found a growing niche in Tulsa’s construction industry.

One of the major centers for the Hispanic community in Tulsa is a simple, mission-style Catholic Church at 2434 E. Admiral Blvd. called St. Francis Xavier Church. Its domed tower is a landmark for the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood. Surrounding the church is a building complex which includes a rectory, a community center building, San Miguel Grade School and Middle School, parish offices, and a counseling center. But it is the church itself that merits our attention.

St. Francis is a classic example of maximizing the space in a simple rectangular plan and finishing it with low maintenance attractive materials. The church was built in 1948 in the post years; its exterior is buff brick with limestone trim and detail and a red clay tile roof.

The building is oriented east/west with the main entrances on the west and the chancel area on the east. Five exterior brick buttresses articulate the north and south sides and are capped with limestone. Between them are six high-arched stained glass windows with pairs of rectangular windows below. Copper gutters, downspouts and collection boxes with impressed crosses complete these side walls.
The entrance is reached by a flight of 12 steps. A parapet wall with limestone scrolls and a cross at its apex houses multiple doors of wood and glass with half-round glass transoms above. A raised cross highlights the lower door panel, its gold color contrasting with the black painted surface.

Rising above the north wall, the tower must be at least 65 feet tall and claims the most elaborate stone work. It is capped by a golden yellow roofing tile dome with a small cupola. It is supported by four semi-circular arches with projecting, lunette balconies. Chamfered corners provide space for stone urns. A smaller brick campanile is attached to the south wall.

One enters St. Francis through a small narthex with a religious sundries/storage room on the south and a small cry room with a half bath on the north. A narrow stair accesses an organ/choir gallery above. The nave has a wide center aisle flanked by 20 rows of simple oak pews, each side terminating in a narrow side aisle. A maximum seating capacity is potentially more than 400 worshippers. The flooring is 12 × 12 ceramic tile on the aisles and chancel, with gray linoleum underneath the pews. Walls are finished with a light gray marble wainscot with a black marble base and wainscot cap trim. At intervals in the wainscot are recessed, flush faced heating/air conditioning units. Above the wainscot are pairs of rectangular windows with geometric colored glass. Above these are the arched stained glass windows depicting various biblical scenes. Between these arched windows are Stations of the Cross recesses, six on each side. The wall finish above the wainscot is off-white smooth pilaster.

At the north wall is a confessional door. At the east end of this wall is a small side chapel honoring St. Mary. At the rear wall is another small chapel honoring the Holy Family.

The chancel consists of several open platforms per Vatican II. A pair of doors in its east wall lead to the sacristy and to the attached rectory. Between them, a classic entablature supported by marble Corinthian columns with adjacent scrolls frame an elaborate painting.

But the tour de force of the interior is the ceiling treatment. There are five gently arched oak trusses with solid webs, terminating in a modified hammer beam treatment. Suspended from the beam projection are rectangular lanterns, obviously original to the room. Strong uplights, in an approximate 18-inch box finished in wood, are attached to the beam ends and provide the main lighting indirectly by bouncing it off the 12 × 12 acoustic tile ceiling. Decorative oak purlins articulate the vaulted space.

This little church is well worth seeing. Take a few minutes, and give it a look.

Updated 07-27-2015

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