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Connecting with the past

July 20, 2010

In the past couple weeks, an amazing connection was made, that brought the past life of the building to focus.

In past posts we mentioned the neighborhood walking tour and the stained glass window drawings we have uncovered. On the tour, we mentioned to Nini that we have a number of window drawings that were labeled “St. Stephens.” We knew Jacoby did windows all over the country, so we figure that would be a good project for many years from now, when we have more time available for restful research. In passing, Nini said there is a St. Stephens in the neighborhood. We didn’t think more about it. What are the odds that the St. Stephens up the street on Wilmington would be that St. Stephens? Over lunch the other day, for some reason, I got on-line and found their website. Their windows certainly look like the drawings we found.

We haven’t  completely unfurled the large stack of drawings we found in the basement recently, but these look like they are the main window over the entry to the santuary.

As a result of making this connection, I’ve actually spoken with one of the former owners of our B.A.B. On the site for the alumni of the school there was an entry that read:

William Oppliger (’42): As president of the Jacoby Stained Glass Studio (then located at 822 Wilmington Ave.), I furnished the windows in the church together with my father, Fred, and brother, Fred Oppliger, Jr., who also graduated St. Stephen in ’35 or ’36. Our good friend, Msgr. Victor Suren, was pastor then.

I e-mailed the alumni association who gave the contact information for Mr. Oppliger, who is now retired and living in Arizona. We had a long phone conversation and he mailed a packet of materials about the firm’s work, artists and history. Amazing!

The stories he told about running a stained glass design business sound very similar to the day to day running of an architecture firm. For example, his firm was well respected for the traditional ‘Munich’ style of window design when tastes shifted to a more abstract modern design. His firm didn’t have examples to show, so what can you do to get your foot in the door? He talked about how exciting it was to finally find someone that would give them that first job in the new arena.

He talked about what his dad, Fred, went through to acquire the building from Bell. Apparently, the building sat empty for many years. Jacoby’s last building suffered devastating loss due to a fire. This building would certainly ease concerns about flammable construction. Unfortunately, the neighbors were very outspoken about having a ‘factory’ next door. Once, with Fred’s sales skills, they understood that cutting glass is a pretty quiet task, the city approved the purchase. He said when they got the place, it needed a lot of clean up, particularly peeling paint. We know all about peeling paint. The roof was a constant problem. Yeah, we feel your pain.

I have quite an overwhelming amount of information from Mr. Oppliger, more than can fit in a single post. I made pages of notes from our phone conversation and I’ve scanned all the materials he’s sent, so stay tuned for more stories. I am so grateful to Mr Oppliger for sharing so many stories and materials. In this age of paranoia, it is rare to connect so directly with a stranger. I wasn’t even sure he would take my call! Who answers a call from an unknown number?

The personal correspondence, for me, brought a heartfelt level of connection to the place. I look at the photos and can see a familiar corner, connect a name and a photo of an artist to the beautiful windows they made. Mr. Meyer was set up in the northwest corner. Mr. Dieckmann painted glass at the back. The windows were assembled on the first floor. The idea that these artists worked where we will be making our own artwork is inspiring.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Joanne Cooper permalink
    November 26, 2010 5:57 pm

    I wanted to let you know that the designer of the St. Stephen Church windows on Wilmington was Russell Krause. a wonderful artist that just passed away last year at 97 years young. I believe that he was working for Emil Frei Studios and that Emil Frei Studios did the windows.
    Please, take those cartoons to the Missouri Historical Society and they can let you know what you have found and maybe, what churches the cartoons are form.
    My husband and I own a Stained Glass Business – Art Glass Creations. I am very interested in anything that you find out about the history of the cartoons. Pls keep posting – Thank You.

  2. Maurine permalink
    July 23, 2010 3:20 pm

    Wouldn’t it be great if he could visit “your” building someday?

    • Sue permalink
      July 23, 2010 6:41 pm

      Mr. Opplinger said he and his wife annually drive through to visit friends here on their way to see family in Milwaukee. He said he’d like to see the place if they make the trip this year. I’m sure it would be amazing- walking thru will certainly stir up more memories. Hopefully, we’ll have time to tidy up a bit 🙂

  3. Susan permalink
    July 21, 2010 1:35 pm

    Wow! I love the picture of the staff! Great detective work!

  4. July 21, 2010 8:56 am

    How cool is that!!


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