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Arson-gutted church gets Vision Iowa money

By Jennifer Jacobs


October 11, 2007 

A rare Byzantine-style church that was gutted by an arsonist's match 12 years ago could be rebuilt next year - exactly 100 years after its original construction.

A Des Moines man with a grudge against the Catholic Church wheeled gasoline in a cart into the All Saints Church in Stuart in 1995 and torched the place.

Destroyed were hand-painted frescoes, altars of Italian marble, German-made windows of ornate stained glass and a copper dome that reached 90 feet into the air.

But the hand-carved limestone block walls still stand.

And on Wednesday, residents who have been fighting for a decade to restore the historic structure won a major victory.

The Vision Iowa board voted unanimously to award a $545,000 grant.

"This is extremely critical," said Tom Smull, a Des Moines resident born in Stuart who believes the building should be saved.

The Project Restore Foundation, created in 1996, hopes to use the building as a "community cultural center" for concerts, school plays, family reunions, business meetings, and weddings. It would also serve as a statewide center to teach tolerance, featuring interactive multimedia displays and programming about religious understanding.

But the fate of the $2.5 million restoration is still uncertain.

Residents of Stuart will vote in a Nov. 6 referendum to decide whether the city should borrow $1.7 million to give to the project.

The grant from Vision Iowa , a state program that provides money for major tourism attractions, is contingent on its passage.

Private donors have committed $232,000, Smull said.

All Saints, one of a small number of Byzantine-style churches in the Midwest , was built in 1908, according to the group's Web site at Restoreallsaints.org.

Portions of the west side of the building - the section where the roof was not burned away - have already been restored, including a small chapel that seats about 50, a meeting room, a kitchen and restrooms.

The 5,000-square-foot center of the church remains a stark, burned-out core with no floor and no roof.

If the money comes through, the exterior would look similar to before the fire, Smull said. The interior would be modern, but with exposed stone and brick. The dome would be rebuilt. Although the copper part melted, the stones in the drum of the dome were numbered and saved.




Click for larger image

Historic All Saints Church in Stuart was nearly destroyed when an arsonist set fire to it in 1995. The Project Restore Foundation, a nonprofit organization, is in the process of restoring the Byzantine-style church constructed in 1908 that included Italian marble altars and a 90-foot-high copper dome. On Wednesday, the Vision Iowa board voted unanimously to award a $545,000 grant toward restoration of the building.






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