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Westminster Presbyterian Church, Waterloo, IA

March 20, 2017

Waterloo’s second Presbyterian congregation served the southwest part of the city, from a site not yet confirmed. The current building is much more recent and very “suburban” in character; presumably the 1906 buildings was closer to the CBD. [A 1910 city directory places it at “4th near Wellington.”]

Architect for the building was John G. Ralston, whose career was summarized in a National Register nomination for another of his designs:

Architect John Glen Ralston (1870-1956) was born in Vinton, Iowa, just south of LaPorte City. He was married in Vinton to Gertrude Verharen on June 24, 1897 and they moved to Waterloo. Ralston completed a year of schooling at Tilford Academy in Vinton, and his architectural training came from a mail order course offered by the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pa. Otherwise trained as a carpenter, Ralston worked in that trade for five years preparing designs and then serving as general contractor on the construction work. He was employed by Murphy and Wallace, architects and builders, of Vinton from 1892 until 1897. He then entered into a partnership W. F. Murphy (“Murphy and Ralston”) and the partners decided to specialize as architects beginning in 1897. Murphy died in 1904 and Ralston worked alone until 1927 when his son Glen joined the firm, and the name was changed to Ralston and Ralston.

The pattern of Ralston’s rise in architecture is a fairly typical pattern during the late 19th and early 20th century: work as a carpenter; a correspondence course through the ICS school; apprenticeship in a local architectural office which lead to a partnership; and eventual independent practice. It isn’t surprising that he was joined by his son. The state of Iowa, by the way, did not license the practice of architecture until 1926, by which time Glen Ralston might have qualified under a “grandfather clause.”

The sophisticated invention of Westminster’s front elevation speaks well for Ralston’s talent [presuming that junior staff were’t the actual designers]. Its double entry is unusual in “orthodox” Neo-Classicism and the keystoned windows along the sides have a borderline Mannerist treatment — limestone keystones within brick arches. [Spoiler alert: I have a “thing” for Mannerism.]

Won’t I be disappointed when Westminster proves not to have been an A-A building.


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