If You Want To See A Beautiful Building, Stop In At Robert J. Kraus’s Hamlet Street Church

Ask me about Walter Gropius, and I’ll gush about the glass curtain walls and floating balconies that he fashioned for the Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. Mention Frank Lloyd Wright, and I’ll rattle on about the magnificent wisteria-mosaic fireplace that he designed for the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, New York. Say Eero Saarinen’s name, and I’ll tell you how I want to see the sunken seating area of the living room of the Miller House that he created in Columbus, Indiana.

But had you inquired whether I knew who designed the church that I admire every morning on my way to work, the school at 2010 E. Broad St., and the Columbus retreat center that was one of the first institutions in the United States to be named in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux, you would have heard crickets. Unspeakable!

Sure, it’s good to know a few fun facts about the work of noted architects, but it’s better to uncover something about lesser-known creators of buildings, especially those right under my nose. The Catholic Record Society helped me begin to fix that.

The society searches out, preserves and makes available historical materials about events, people, organizations and places in Ohio that are associated with the Diocese of Columbus. For its recent winter meeting, it convened at Sacred Heart Church, in Ryan Hall, named for Monsignor James M. Ryan, who served as the administrator of the parish from 1919 until his death in 1944. The focus of the meeting was “The Churches of Robert J. Kraus,” a presentation given by his son, James E. Kraus.

Kraus (1887-1972) hailed from Akron, Ohio. At 14, he became an apprentice to an architect and began producing remarkable architectural drawings, including one of a vaulted vestibule he drew as a teenager that the younger Kraus shared with the group. After studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Kraus embarked upon a 70-year career, during which he designed about 150 churches, schools and houses.

Kraus’s earliest church commissions were for Holy Cross in Glouster, Ohio and St. Bernard in Corning, Ohio, both in 1915. He turned his attention to Sacred Heart Church in Columbus in 1922.

Sacred Heart’s website reveals much about its history.  The parish traces its history to around 1852, when a Lancaster, Ohio resident willed four acres of land bounded by Summit Street, First Avenue, Hamlet Street and Second Avenue (in the Columbus neighborhood now known as Italian Village) to the Diocese of Cincinnati (Columbus was a part of that diocese then), with the stipulation that the land was to be used for religious and educational purposes.

In 1875, Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans, the first bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, established Sacred Heart Parish, the first parish in the Diocese to have defined boundaries. Bishop Rosecrans also authorized construction of buildings for the parish that would house a school, a hall large enough to be used as a church, and rooms for the Sisters of St. Francis, who were to teach there. The following year, the project was completed, the new church was dedicated, and the school opened.

As Sacred Heart’s congregation grew, so did its home. In 1877, a pastoral residence was added to its sound end, while a convent for the Sisters was built on its north end in 1886. The year 1892 saw the opening of Sacred Heart High School, a two-year high school for boys and girls that continued until 1905, when the boys were transferred to the new St. Patrick’s College, and Sacred Heart Commercial School was established for girls in 1908, holding classes there until 1957. During those early years of the 20th century, my great-great grandparents, Mariann and Daniel O’Connor, became parishioners of Sacred Heart and worshiped there with their four children.

In July 1919, Bishop James Hartley commissioned the building of a new church and rectory for the parish. By 1922, over $50,000 had been collected in a building fund, Kraus was hired to draw the plans, and construction began. On Thanksgiving Day 1923, the new church was dedicated.

The Tudor Gothic structure is 155 feet long, 80 feet wide and 52 feet high, with a 105-feet-high bell tower and a small chapel. It seats almost 800 people.

“If you want to see a beautiful building, stop in at the Church of the Sacred Heart at the corner of Hamlet Street and First Avenue,” wrote W. L. Graves, professor of English at The Ohio State University, in the January 15, 1924 issue of the Ohio State Lantern. “…The church has a perfect unity of effect, a beautiful serenity and dignity of design that makes worship there, one feels, a memorable experience.”

The interior features Kraus-designed railings that were reproduced in regalico, an imitation marble product that was manufactured by Daprato of Chicago, now known as Daprato Rigati Studios. Round columns of Caen stone line the nave and the confessional booths were carved from oak. Beautiful stained glass windows and a ceiling deserving close attention complete the picture.

The church also has fine acoustics, as Father Kevin Lutz demonstrated, both in song and at the console of its organ. Made by the Jackson Pipe Organ Company of Chester, Illinois circa 1880, the organ was once housed at St. Joseph Cathedral and is one of only four such Jackson organs known to exist today.

Other church commissions followed for Kraus, including St. John’s in Bellaire (1923); St. Charles Seminary in Columbus (1924), now known as St. Charles Preparatory School; Sacred Heart in New Philadelphia (1927); St. Therese’s Retreat Center in Columbus (1931); St. Mary’s School in Lancaster (1928); Blessed Sacrament in Newark (1942); and St. Agatha and St. Philip the Apostle, both constructed in Columbus in 1962.

The Catholic Record Society will meet next in May, then in September. For more information, click here.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Churches, Columbus, History. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to If You Want To See A Beautiful Building, Stop In At Robert J. Kraus’s Hamlet Street Church

  1. Gubbinal says:

    Thank you! That is a wonderful church.

  2. Judy James says:

    Hi Betsy! This is so interesting. I have never heard of this architect with Akron roots – intriguing. Still enjoying your blog. Hope all is well with you. Judy James

  3. Pamela Mason says:

    Betsy, I am so impressed by your blog! It will be a pleasure to look through your posts and the archive as a new subscriber. What a range of interests you have and what a wonderful writer you are. Having just met you in person, I wish I had gotten your e-mail address. Could you please contact me when you can? Thanks, Pamela

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