Christ Chapel’s restored windows should ‘last another 150 years’

Christ Chapel’s altar window, which was recently restored, may be as old as the late 1860s or early 1870s.
Christ Chapel’s altar window, which was recently restored, may be as old as the late 1860s or early 1870s. awebb@idahostatesman.com

Replacing the 1950s-era Broadway Bridge affected Boise-area commuters for several months. But the project — the completed bridge was unveiled in September — also meant changes for a beloved Boise icon, tiny Christ Chapel.

The white building is located just south of the bridge near Albertsons Stadium.

The Christ Chapel Historical Society Inc., the chapel’s owner, removed its fragile historic stained-glass windows to protect them during the construction project from the vibrations that came from pounding more than 80 new bridge support beams into the nearby riverbed. Removal of the windows also gave the society the chance to give the windows some much-needed care, said Eve Chandler, society president.

For the past year, the windows — those behind the altar and the diamond-paned side windows — have been under repair in the Portland, Ore., stained glass studio of restoration artist David Schlicker. Schlicker and his team recently returned the windows to Boise and reinstalled them.

The chapel was the first Episcopal church in Boise and in the region and was built in 1866. Schlicker can’t date the windows exactly, but he believes they could date back to the late 1860s or 1870s.

“They’re pretty cool windows, stark in their colors, mostly reds, blues and ambers, with just a hint of green and rose,” Schlicker said. In years past, he also has restored windows at Ahavath Beth Israel Synagogue and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise.

The windows are distinctive, both in their naturalistic style, landscapes with browns and grays. The figures portrayed in the windows, including John the Baptist, are dressed in what looks like home-spun cloth and fur.

The technique used to make the windows is also notable. Schlicker believes they were made in the U.S., probably in Philadelphia or Boston, but most likely by an artisan trained in Europe who used the European tradition of painting designs on the glass like a pottery glaze and firing it in a kiln. In repairing the windows, Schlicker used the same techniques.

In his studio, Schlicker took the windows apart piece by piece. He cleaned each piece of glass, replacing 60 pieces that were broken or cracked. He reassembled the windows with new lead and steel support bars.

“They’re like new, but with 90 percent old material. They should last another 150 years,” Schlicker said.

The Idaho Transportation Department paid for the restoration and securing the chapel, including its steeple, as part of the bridge project — $260,000 on structural improvements and $60,000 on the windows.

The society will complete a few more improvements, Chandler said, including painting and making minor repairs to the building. The chapel’s historic organ is in good condition. That will come as good news for many, Chandler anticipates the chapel will reopen for weddings some time this fall.

The city of Boise is planning other improvements for the area, including the installation of six historic interpretive signs. Topics will include South Boise, the streetcar that connected South Boise to Downtown via the Broadway Bridge, early Native American history, the city’s first airport (where BSU’s campus is today), and the two bridges, built in the 19th century and 1956, respectively, that preceded the new bridge.

Why does the chapel matter?

Christ Chapel is small and of modest appearance, but two of the city’s most well-known institutions, Boise State University and St. Michael’s Cathedral, have deep roots inside its white clapboard walls.

Episcopalian women raised $2,450 to build the church in 1866, just three years after Boise’s original 10 blocks were platted. It was named St. Michael’s in honor of the Rev. Saint Michael Fackler who led Boise’s first Episcopal congregation. The church was renamed Christ Chapel when the congregation grew and St. Michael’s Cathedral opened in 1902 at 8th and State streets where it stands today.

The old Christ Chapel also housed St. Margaret’s School, which eventually became Boise Junior College, which, in turn, became Boise State University.

In addition to all of this, the little white church is one of the most mobile historic buildings in town. Its first home was on the southwest corner of 7th and Bannock streets, now the site of a parking garage. After the new St. Michael’s opened, the congregation moved Christ Chapel to 15th and Ridenbaugh in the North End. In 1963, a group of Boiseans, including Eve 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.

Then-college President Eugene Chaffee advocated for that move because of the building’s historic ties to Boise State, Chandler said.

“The archives still has Chaffee’s handwritten speech where he offers to have students mow the chapel lawns,” Chandler said.

Christ Chapel was rededicated as a nondenominational historic shrine in 1964. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Chandler believes the building is in its final location and will never move again.

“It’s so important for a lot of people. Kind of like the Vista washer woman. I think if anyone tried to move it again, there would be a public outcry,” she said.