Christ Chapel, the small white church that sits just east of Albertsons Stadium near Broadway, is among the city’s beloved historic structures. Built in 1866, it was one of the first Episcopal churches in the territory that’s now Idaho, Utah and Montana.
If you drive by now, you’ll see it’s under wraps — surrounded by a big green construction fence. What’s not as obvious is that the chapel’s historic stained-glass windows are gone. Artisans recently removed them and took them to a glass studio in Portland as part of a major restoration.
That restoration of the chapel is part of a bigger project: the rebuilding of the Broadway Bridge, which is set to begin in January. The Idaho Transportation Department is making sure the chapel is structurally sound and that it won’t be harmed by the construction, particularly when the existing bridge is demolished and more than 80 new support beams are pounded 60 feet into the riverbed.
Along with the window work, the chapel’s steeple and bell will be secured as a precaution, and the building’s foundation will be stabilized.
ITD will foot the bill: The agency will spend $260,000 on structural improvements and another $60,000 on the stained-glass altar windows, said Mark Campbell, ITD project manager.
The church’s windows, organ and altar all arrived in Idaho via Cape Horn and San Francisco, traveling to Boise in a covered wagon.
David Schlicker Stained Glass, a Portland company, is handling the window restoration.
Schlicker is familiar with historic stained glass in Boise thanks to his work on the rose window at Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in 2012. The windows of Christ Chapel, he said, are special. He can’t be certain of their date, but they could date to as early as 1870. They were made in an old European style in which artisans painted images on clear glass and fired them in a kiln.
He believes the windows are American but made by artisans trained in Europe.
“The other thing is that they’re charming,” said Schlicker. “They have a kind of innocence.”
The windows feature images of religious figures, including John the Baptist in a natural landscape not unlike the nearby Boise River. The figures are short, of modest size. They don’t have what Schlicker described as “that big ‘gothic church in a big city’ look where they’re larger than life.”
Church women held ice cream socials and bazaars, sold needlework and quilts, and produced home talent shows to raise the $2,450 it took to build the church in 1866.
The windows have been damaged over the years. One unfortunate repair added black rubber in lieu of proper leading between glass panes, and imagery that was painted but not fired in the traditional method. Schlicker plans to return the windows to their original state, repainting and refiring. He’ll work with Fremont Antique Glass in Seattle, a company that makes brilliantly colored transparent glass like that used in the original windows.
“When we took out the windows, we found the trim had square nails. That’s proof of some old construction,” said Schlicker.
He’s keeping the nails in a jar. He’ll put them back in place when he reinstalls the windows next year.
A CHAPEL ON THE MOVE
Like many of Boise’s important buildings, including the Knudsen House, Ahavath Beth Israel, the Bishop’s House and others, Christ Chapel has already moved from its original site — in its case, not once but twice.
Eve Chandler, president of the Christ Chapel Historical Society, said Episcopalian women raised the $2,450 it took to build the church in 1866 on the southwest corner of 7th and Bannock streets — now the site of a parking garage. Its windows, organ and altar all arrived in Idaho on a covered wagon from San Francisco after being shipped by sea.
The chapel is covered in wooden siding. While that’s not unusual, it is rare to have boards cut on a water-powered sawmill, said Chandler. Vertical marks on the siding were the clue for one visiting architect.
The church was first named St. Michael’s in honor of the Rev. Saint Michael Fackler, who led the original congregation. It was renamed Christ Chapel when St. Michael’s Cathedral opened in 1902 at 8th and State streets. The congregation then moved the small white church to 15th and Ridenbaugh. It sat in Boise’s North End until 1963, when Boiseans, including Chandler’s grandmother Josephine Brassey and Idaho Statesman Editor James L. Brown, paid to move the church to its present site on the Boise State campus.
Christ Chapel was rededicated as a nondenominational historic shrine on May 17, 1964. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
ITD’s Campbell said the new bridge will open to traffic next fall after work begins at the start of the year.
“Hopefully Christ Chapel will be put back together by that time as well,” he said.