Readers who follow my Urban Spelunking adventures can surely tell that I’m a big fan of architect Henry Koch, whose highest-profile Milwaukee works include City Hall, The Pfister, Gesu Church, the Ward Theater and chapel at the Old Soldiers Home and schools like Golda Meir and Eighth Street.
Koch’s first building here in his hometown, however, was the Neo-Gothic Big Red Church, officially called Calvary Presbyterian, 935 W. Wisconsin Ave. And it needs our help.
Like many churches in the city – including the historic St. James just a couple doors east, which recently closed its doors forever – Calvary suffers from a dangerous cocktail of a small congregation and a money-hungry old building.
Though its exterior was completely renovated in 1998 and its interior is a popular destination for arts lovers (there is a theater in the building), folks who enjoy the thoughtful, deliberate walk through the labyrinth in the sanctuary and those seeking spiritual nourishment.
The building – you can read about my spelunking visit here – is used for weddings, meetings, retreats, arts events and more. But it’s in need.
The church needs a new roof, tuckpointing and painting work, and stained glass window repairs. Because it is committing to preserving the environment, the church also hopes to add a green roof, solar panels, stormwater containment systems and eco-friendly landscaping.
Here’s what a recent release from the church’s capital committee says:
"Critical exterior and interior repairs totaling $2 million are needed to preserve this historic building. As a beacon of resilience over generations of change, the Big Red Church must be preserved to connect a great city to its history. Our goal now is to keep this urban landmark open to the public for present and future generations.
"To remind ourselves of the urgency of this campaign, we can look to other cities that have lost landmark churches. When a historic church is also a cultural center and an ongoing resource to the community, something vital disappears if public accessibility is lost. Beautiful historic spaces have the power to draw people from far and wide, allowing unexpected connections and creative collaborations to occur. Preserving historic buildings like The Big Red Church is critical to keeping alive this dynamic and vital part of a city's inheritance."
Calvary is inviting people interested in helping to one of a series of 30-minute presentations about the campaign to save the church.
Those meetings are Jan. 19 (at noon), Jan. 28 (4:30 p.m.) and Jan. 30 (7 p.m.).
You can learn more here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.