Australian-born Portland architect Phillip Chappell Browne designed the first permanent chapel, sanctuary, and parsonage for St. James Lutheran Church on the present site in 1891. Browne specialized in the design of smaller business buildings, clubhouses, apartments, and school buildings in western Oregon and southwestern Washington from the 1890’s into the 1920’s. His original watercolor renderings, preserved in the parish archives, depict a brick veneer structure with stone trim and foundation, rounded Romanesque windows, corner tower and spire.
Only the chapel (today’s Pioneer Chapel) and the parsonage (later demolished) were constructed during the 1890’s. The present sanctuary was finished between 1907 and 1910, and roughly textured Tenino sandstone was substituted for brick on the Park Avenue and Jefferson Street elevations – a puzzle and a treasure-trove for today’s PSU geology students who patrol the Park blocks to identify sources of local building stone. Architect Browne modified his 1891 original design in 1907, omitted the spire, capping the corner tower with medieval-style battlements, and used pointed arch Gothic windows.
An intricately carved oak- and fir-bracketed ceiling support system in the Gothic style is a dominant feature of the interior. Large stained glass windows on the Park Avenue and Jefferson Street walls of the nave depict “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” and “Christ Blessing Little Children”. They are both major works by the Povey Brothers, whose glass studio was the source of historic windows in churches and private homes throughout the Pacific Northwest. Smaller windows and rondels were added in the decade following the dedication of the main sanctuary and bear memorial inscriptions honoring members of the parish.
A circular window depicting Jesus with a crown of thorns, above the altar, was dedicated in memory of Eugene Gelinsky, a young parishioner.
Semi-circular rows of dark oak pews face the south chancel wall and elevated altar and choir area. Carved oak altar, pulpit and lectern were created for the sanctuary in 1910, as were the painted organ pipes – a surviving part of the original Estey Organ (now modified and expanded with exposed pipework in the north balcony).
The massive corner tower suffered structural damage, was taken down to the first floor in the early 1950’s and was reconstructed in the late 1970’s. Sandstone from a quarry near Lebanon, Oregon, was used to nearly match the earlier Tenino stone. New stained glass lancet windows were installed at that time, created by stained glass artist Bryce Anderson.
The parsonage was demolished in 1955/56 to make room for an office and classroom wing, built in a modernist style from plans prepared by Portland architect John W. Foster, a prolific designer of churches in the Portland area at that time.
The St. James Apartments occupy a ten-story building at the southeast corner of SW 10th and Jefferson that was designed by Chilless Nielsen Architects and constructed as low- and moderate-income housing in 1994 on property owned by the congregation. Retail and childcare spaces can be found on the ground floor; 122 housing units take up the second through tenth floors. A tree-shaded courtyard on the interior is a pleasant and private refuge for residents and the children of the St. James Child Development Center.