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St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

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1889, Herman Paul Schnetzky. 804 W. Vliet St.
  • (Photograph by Andrew Hope)
  • (Photograph by Andrew Hope)
  • (Photograph by Andrew Hope)

Conspicuously perched on a hillside overlooking the city’s central business district, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran may be Milwaukee’s finest German-styled Gothic Revival church. Built for a prosperous German American congregation, it demonstrates the strong influence that contemporary German ideas had on the work of nineteenth-century Milwaukee architects. The design of St. John’s was likely influenced by that of St. Peter’s Church in Leipzig, Germany, which was completed around 1886 and extensively documented in architectural publications. St. John’s taller, 197-foot steeple, with its four corner pinnacles, four clock-face gables, and narrow, soaring spire, is very similar to St. Peter’s.

Compared with other Protestant churches of the day, the interior of St. John’s is exceptionally elaborate. The wooden Gothic Revival reredos, populated with statues and bristling with pinnacles, is the focal point of the interior. A wooden pulpit and sounding board, matching the style of the altarpiece, cling to a pier nearby. The lacy openwork carving here and throughout the nave is a design tradition known in Germany. The nave’s unusual lighting scheme installed in 1909 has hundreds of bare electric bulbs outlining every contour of the vaulting. Seating more than one thousand, St. John’s is probably the largest nineteenth-century Lutheran church in Wisconsin.

The former parsonage and caretaker’s residence still stand nearby.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church", [Milwaukee, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 91-92.

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