d o c o m o m o l o u i s i a n a is a regional chapter of an international committee dedicated to the

documentation and conservation of the buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church (1963 - 2007)

In 1994 Tulane School of Architecture sponsored a tour, "The International Style in New Orleans" which featured six modern buildings designed by alumni and faculty in New Orleans: Nathaniel C. Curtis, Jr., Arthur Q. Davis, John Lawrence, James Lamantia, Albert C. Ledner, and August Perez, Jr. This is the second of six posts in a series. 
Destruction of The Church
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church
5550 Paris Avenue
Architect: Curtis & Davis
Designing Architects: Nathanial Curtis, Arthur Q. Davis, Hamilton Frederick, Sidney Folse, and Seymour Evans

Designed in 1963, this church is one of the earliest examples in New Orleans of a new trend in religious architecture: a circular, amphitheater orientation that brings all members of the congregation closer to the altar than did the traditional nave.
This square building is subdivided by three barrel vaults supported by ribs. Two of these vaults shelter the entrances, and the third leads to the baptistery. All three “ float” above the fiberglass roof without resting on it. The core building is of reinforced concrete, and hidden within the ribs are the air conditioning ducts. Materials are simple, and the excitement is generated by the forms. The central spire rises 80 feet, adding to a feeling of light, and the architects applied the gold leaving lining it. Note the interlocking crosses in the reredos (made of iron, brass and mahogany) and on the brick exterior facade.
The stained glass windows were produced by the same company that created the windows in the Chartres Cathedral in France, following guidelines supplied by Curtis & Davis. Those lining the vaults add to the airiness of the church, and the three at the ends of the vaults replace traditional rose windows. Their theme are the Dove, the Trinity, and the Ten Commandments.
The baptistery, although a separate room, is clearly an integral part of the church when seen from the chancel. The architects designed the baptistery railing, with its fish design, and the font is of Carrara marble. 

NOTE: FEMA determined St. Frances Cabrini Church was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. However, the Archdiocese of New Orleans' desire to demolish the structure won out over calls for its adaptive reuse on the new Holy Cross campus. This historic modern church was razed in 2007.

The International Style in New Orleans, Tulane School of Architecture, 1994, copy by Patty Andrews
photo: Karen Gadbois

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