The Design and Construction of the Cathedral Building (1926–1931)

Audio version read by James Davidson. (Transcript below)


Click to enlarge.


Station 2: design and construction of the building

Location: Southeast Pillar ("Coffee Corner")

The cathedral as you see it before you today is the result of generations of grand visions, compromises, and incremental improvements, each of which has left its visible trace in the fabric of the building. And each of these physical layers is an embodiment, in concrete and wood and stone, of the dreams, disappointments, and triumphs of the Saint Mark’s Community.

John C. Leffler, Dean from 1951 to 1991, summed up the genesis of the building this way:

“Conceived in the boom years of the late 1920s when people thought big and that prosperity would last forever, the design for the building prepared by the San Francisco architect Arthur Brown was, to say the least, fantastically grandiose for a cathedral in a small diocese... [The Vestry imagined a] design concentrated on a colossal tower 250 feet high, with a very short nave and shallow sanctuary, pseudo-Gothic in style, with a great deal of ornate exterior facing of Wilkinson stone over reinforced concrete.”

An initial campaign for funds resulted in pledges which would enable the building of the basic structure to which the tower would be added at a later date. The project broke ground on September 30, 1928.

For many years the Cathedral was said to be the largest pour of concrete in Washington State—second only to Grand Coulee Dam!

Before the day of concrete mixers, gravel, sand, and concrete were mixed by hand, not always to the standard we are used to today. The result of this poor mixing is easily visible on the interior concrete walls today, and has been the cause of decades of leaks and damage. But the visibility of the river-rock aggregate, along with the visible impressions of the timber formwork, remind us of the natural materials used in the walls, and the human labor which crafted them.

Construction was well under way in the fall of 1929, when the Stock Market crashed and Great Depression began.

The cathedral community, along with the rest of the country, ran into financial trouble. As the depression deepened, these problems became acute. The original hope of proceeding with the tower died, and it became apparent that the basic cube must be topped off as cheaply as possible, with rough fir beams recycled from the timber used in the concrete formwork.

On the feast day of St. Mark, April 25, 1931, the incomplete but functional cathedral was dedicated for worship—but with a $250,000 mortgage and rapidly dwindling income.

The tour continues at the dedication stone; found at the base of the column at the left of the altar platform.