St. John’s parish, founded in 1837, was Milwaukee’s first Roman Catholic congregation. The parish church was elevated to cathedral status in 1841, when papal authority created the Milwaukee archdiocese. St. John’s is one of Milwaukee’s most impressive structures. Its heavy, classically ordered body—three-bay massing, Doric pilasters and entablature, pediments over the windows and portals—illustrated the German aesthetic known as Zopfstil. At the same time, the scrolled moldings surrounding the window on the central pavilion, the volute-shaped parapet walls abutting the tower, and the delicate steeple illustrate the lingering influence of eighteenth-century Baroque. The steeple deteriorated beyond repair and was replaced in 1892 by the extant second and third tower stages. These are Baroque, but delicate enough to accord with the chaste Zopfstil ornamentation and lines. George Bowman Ferry of Milwaukee’s Ferry and Clas designed the 1892 tower, adding Baroque ornament and details to make the building conform to Victorian taste and creating one of Milwaukee’s leading landmarks. A disastrous fire in 1935 gutted the cathedral interior, leaving only the tower intact. The rebuilt and elongated church retained its original neoclassical style.
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St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Cathedral
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