September 21, 2011 in City, Voices

Restoring St. Al’s luster

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Restorationist Peter Siposs is spending his days high above the altar in St. Aloysius Church cleaning and repainting the molding.
(Full-size photo)


The present St. Aloysius church was dedicated Oct. 12, 1911. It has the largest seating capacity among Catholic churches in Spokane, accommodating 1,100 worshippers. The church, which replaced an original wooden structure, was designed by the architectural firm Preusse & Zittle of Spokane. An adapted Romanesque style, its many rounded arches and graceful circular features help soften construction lines. The church, begun in 1909, took almost exactly two years to build at a cost of $176,125. The church, at 330 E. Boone Ave., is open every day.

St. Aloysius church is a Spokane landmark. Its tall spires can be seen from many Spokane neighborhoods and it’s an integral part of Gonzaga University’s campus.

In October, the church turns 100, and in preparation for that it’s getting a paint touch up on the tall arch spanning the altar and a few other interior decorations and moldings.

That’s why churchgoers during the week will see a large spiderlike cherry picker – or lift – situated right in front of the altar. And in the basket at the end of the long, hydraulic arm is 46-year-old Peter Siposs with his paints and his small paintbrushes.

“Call me ‘the restorationist,’ ” said Siposs, as he was getting ready for another day of painting on Monday. “My background is in different kinds of engineering and I was a home inspector for a while. I volunteered to do some electrical updates around St. Al’s and then the project grew from there.”

Siposs first helped clean the many fans hanging high from St. Al’s ceiling.

“They had gotten pretty dusty,” said Siposs. “We lowered those down from the attic of the church and cleaned them down below.”

Then he moved on to the light fixtures beneath the Stations of the Cross, and in October last year the painted molding inside the church caught Siposs’ attention. Some had been painted over in one solid color, eliminating the detail of the craftsmanship that went into creating various squares and decorations, and it was all very dusty.

“We estimate that the last time any of the interior was painted was in the early 1960s,” said Siposs. “I found an empty cigarette pack up there on one of the ledges, and we looked it up online. It was from the early ’60s.”

Siposs is currently working on cleaning and painting the huge arch spanning the altar.

He’s finished with the side to the right of the center corbel, and he’s hoping to be done with the other side before the church’s birthday.

“There is some real gold up there and we are just cleaning that. We are not painting over it,” said Siposs. “The gold paint we use is a unique, brighter shade of gold, and it is $225 a gallon.”

The green, red, cream and blue colors were picked up at Home Depot.

When it was time to pick colors and types of paint, Siposs got help from some of the craftsmen who worked on the restoration of the Davenport Hotel.

He said his attention to painting tiny details began when he painted model airplanes and trains as a child.

“Later, I worked at a model shop for a while. I painted pilot’s faces on the small airplanes,” Siposs said. “Since then it’s been more of a hobby.”

When Siposs began doing maintenance projects around St. Al’s last year, he was a volunteer. Since January he’s been an independent contractor for St. Al’s.

“There has been a desire for many years to paint the inside of the church, but that would cost several hundred thousand dollars,” said Siposs. “This is much more doable.”

And up he goes in his cherry picker, which is really a 7,200-pound Reach Master TS85 the church is renting from West Coast Window Cleaning.

“We had to find something we could get into the church – you can’t get a truck in here,” said Siposs.

The cherry picker lifts Siposs 50 feet off the ground, to where his painting job begins with a thorough cleaning of the plaster molding.

“You have got to be very careful as you remove 50 years worth of dust, and then it has to dry before you can paint on it,” said Siposs.

The cherry picker is left in place all week but removed over the weekends when the church is a lot busier. It takes a long time to put it back in the right place, and Siposs is careful that he brings everything with him once he hits the “up” button.

“I pack very carefully and I only come down for breaks,” he said, laughing, “I don’t want to be up there and then discover I’m missing something that’s down here.” He put in a 13-hour day last week.

The job is progressing as planned, and he hopes it will be done by the time St. Al’s celebrates its centennial in October.

“We have talked to some of the old-timers around here and we don’t know that it’s ever been closed for one day in the 100 years,” said Don Weber, parish administrator. “It really is a landmark and it’s a church that means a lot to a lot of people in Spokane, regardless of their religious affiliation.”

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