Spanish Colonial Mission Church Revival Architecture: St. Philip's in the Hills

Narrative Description

Location - Context
Summary Description
St. Philip's In The Hills Church
Statement of Significance
Bibliographical References

Location – Context

Built in 1936, St. Philip's In The Hills Episcopal Church and Plaza is located in Pima County on the northern outskirts of Tucson, Arizona about 60 miles from the Mexican border. The 6.84 acres of land at the northeast corner of River Road and Campbell Avenue lies in the Santa Catalina Foothills, on 7000 acres of high desert property then owned by Tucson real estate developer and builder, John W. Murphey and his wife, artist and business partner, Helen Geyer Murphey. Bordering on River Road on the south is the Rillito River, which is actually a dry wash, draining the seasonal runoff from winter snows and summer rains from the Santa Catalina and Rincon Mountains into the Santa Cruz River flowing through Tucson south into Mexico. Except for the two narrow country roads, the surrounding land was Murphey property covered with natural desert vegetation. The Rillito River marks the end of the grid pattern of the city streets to the south and the beginning of the hills and the valleys of the high desert landscape where they were building a new community of small 3 to 6 acre estates with Spanish Colonial style haciendas.

Summary Description

St. Philip’s Church and Plaza includes those individual features shown in original 1930 plans and in current photos which establish it as a community center for the Catalina Foothills Estates development to the north. They are: the concrete and tile octagonal fountain, the tri-level animal fountain, sandstone walks and surrounding low adobe wall and drives – all considered eligible for listing – the Sonoran hacienda tea room and gift shop El Merendero/La Parroquia, and St. Philip’s basilica church and the 3 cloister gardens. Under the classification of resources, the room , 3 cloister gardens, 2 walls with wrought iron entry gates and 2 fountains, sandstone walkways and drives. All of the contributing elements were designed by Josias Thomas Joesler and built by John W. Murphey and his wife and partner Helen, using adobe as a major structural element. The styles reflect the classic Mediterranean Revival form of the church and the Spanish Colonial hacienda style of Mexico and the U. S., both providing a link with Tucson’s borderland cultural heritage.

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St. Philip's In The Hills Church

The clerestory ("cloud-story") rectangular form of St. Philip’s adobe church is built on a north-south axis, which follows the contour of the land and avoids the direct path of the sun, with the north side looking to the mountains and the south side fronting on the Plaza. Site placement was very important to Joesler’s plans and the north to south orientation of the church was dictated by contour, size and shape of the lot and by the Murphey/Joesler concept of a Spanish Colonial-style walled plaza. For the church, Joesler chose the basilican form, a simple oblong shape with an upper story called a clerestory ("cloud-story") rising above the surrounding roofs. In the early Christian era this was a preferred building form for churches in western Europe, and has continued to be favored by liturgical churches which follow a formal ritual. The exterior surface covered with a white stucco coating relies for effect on mass and structural form rather than on ornament. The lower part of the 5 ft. thick adobe façade is marked by the use of geometric detail in the half circle Roman arch of the deeply recessed portal, with its hand-carved Mexican cedar doors and antique lock and bosses. Directly above is the circle of a stained glass window and the arch and wrought-iron cross of the brick-topped parapet where the roof line rises in 3 steps to the belfry. On the façade there are 2 narrow vertical windows: left at clerestory level and right at nave level. A wing wall defines the west side of the church and 1947 chapel garden. The right front is extended east to enclose the cloister garden, which is entered through a wrought-iron gate designed by Joesler. He used to cast stone Solomonic columns with composite acanthus leaves and Ionic scroll capitals to form a shady arcade topped with a red tiled roof. The garden is planted with trees and flowers in season – either native or adapted plans – green grass, brick walls and a fish pond, and was originally landscaped by parishioner Maurice Reed. Later, all the plantings at St. Philip’s were developed by Rutgers Porter, horticulturalist, who gave his home and gardens to become the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

The church is entered from the gardens and the unifying spiral form of the Solomonic columns continues inside where they support the arches of the nave wall, which rises to the clerestory The wooden ceiling rests on crossbeams held by carved blocks called corbels which are attached to the wall. In the terminology of Spanish Colonial-style architecture this is called a viga/Zapata ceiling. The two side aisles are a single story in height and their sloping roofs attach to the arcade’s wall and the exterior wall of the nave. The adobe basilica walls were built in 1936 without bays, so the smooth inside wall follows the 3 ft. mass of the exterior side wall.

In the church’s interior the warm red of the carped and scored concrete floors sets off the cool white of the plastered nave walls and the light blue of the chancel arch surrounding the 12 ft. plate glass altar window (see photo 7). The deep brown of the hand-carved beams and boarded ceiling is repeated in the carved wooden pews. Single hung windows painted in Mexico that show apostles with their identifying attributes add color to the nave walls. Baroque tin chandeliers and wall sconces are copies of sliver ones from the wealthy mining towns of Mexico. The 12 ft. arched plate glass window behind the altar frames the peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains a short way off and provides a spectacular focal point.

In the 1940 expansion, the Rector needed a room for conferences and the children needed space for church school classes. The Rector’s wood paneled study was built first, attached to the exterior east wall of the church. This is now called the Ferguson Room.

Next, across a walkway to the east, Joesler designed the children’s classroom building, a long adobe rectangle with moveable interior dividers for one, two or three room spaces. For the north side of the children’s rooms, the Murphey’s ordered stained glass windows from Mexico and on the south side facing the lower east cloister garden there are glass door. Permanent walls now divide this space into two meeting rooms.

In 1947, as the congregation continued to increase, more seating space was needed in the church, so a transept chapel was added to the west, allowing a view into the church and participation in the service. The trussed ceiling added height and importance to the space. The chapel garden to the south continues the Solomonic arcade and is enclosed by low walls along the north drive with a Joesler wrought iron gate facing east.

In 1951 Joesler and the Murpheys committed themselves to a long-range plan for church expansion which ultimately included doubling the length of the church nave by increasing it to 52 feet. With that in mind, Joesler drew plans for an upper patio east of the extended church, adding another classroom building and storage area on the north side, and using Solomonic columns in an arcade which joined the church, 2 classroom building s and upper and lower gardens together with a common theme. Although this new classroom building was constructed with modern materials, it was coated with stucco to match the other buildings. These classrooms eventually became the choir room, and now are used as conference and office space. An 18th century carved sandstone cross, now located in this upper patio, is from southern central Mexico (18th century Jalisco area), and was given in memory of the Murphey’s son, John Michael Murphey, by family friends.

At the same time in 1951, Joesler also ordered enough cast stone columns and arches to complete his planned expansion of the church. This project did not take place until 1957, one year after Joesler’s death, but it was faithfully executed in his architectural style as the materials and his finished plans were available (see photo 6). The expansion was supervised by Joesler’s former assistant Gordon Maas Luepke, working with John Murphey. In addition to doubling the length of the nave, single stage buttresses with sloping tops were added to strengthen the exterior wall. On the west side, a Bride’s Room and restrooms were added north of the Rector’s Study. The sink taffeta Altar Frontal, woven in England for St. Philip’s was donated by a parishioner in 1960.

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The village plaza as planned by Joesler and the Murpheys gave a sense of spatial relations and proportions to the surroundings. Typically it was enclosed by a low adobe wall and circled by a narrow two-lane country road carrying light traffic. For that short distance, River Road and Campbell avenue came together around the square before dividing again, Campbell continuing up the hill to the Catalina Foothills Estates and River Road continuing west above the river.

In 1941 on the west side of Campbell looking eastward toward the Plaza three new buildings were constructed: the Murphey-Keith Construction Offices, at the intersection of River Road and Campbell; next, to the north, Joesler’s drafting room and Catalina Foothills Sales Office; then the Hutton Webster Art Studio and residence. All were designed by Joesler showing different renderings of his signature hacienda style that he contemporaneously was using for the Catalina Foothills Estates. These buildings, including El Merendero Tea Room which became St. Philip's La Parroquia/Parish Hall on the East Drive of the plaza, completed the original plan for the church and four buildings around the low walled plaza. These west Campbell Avenue office buildings were later sold.

In 1942 the Murpheys deeded the Plaza in front of the church to St. Philip’s with the agreement that it was always to be maintained as a park by the church.

The Plaza, enclosed by a low adobe wall, includes the octagonal fountain, sandstone walks, light standard, landscaping and original trees (1936). The original plans for the plaza were drawn by Joesler in 1929 and include:

North wall animal fountain (1936, included in Joesler’s 1930 plans) with three levels for horses, ponies and puppies to have a drink.

This Tea Room and Gift Shop was built in Joesler’s preferred hacienda style with a flat roof, a parapet and exposed mortar-washed burnt adobe bricks. The parapet is particularly characteristic of the sonoran type of hacienda.

In 1947 when the congregation needed more room for parish activities, the Murpheys made “El Merendero” available to the church as a parish hall, now known as “La Parroquia”.

Joesler and the Murpheys made the approximate changes. The most significant of these were an extension to the north in 1950, making a place for meetings and the church library. It currently houses a Peace Garden in the courtyard, and the church library and offices for professional counselors. Enclosing the front porch in 1954 provided space for three offices; with windows having replaced the glass doors leading to the porch. While these changes may have altered the exterior of El Merendero, the interior of the building retains a sophisticated Mexican country style of decoration, using muted colors and natural materials which are illustrative of Joesler’s and Helen Murphey’s decorative style. It offers to visitors to the church a rare glimpse of the interior elegance of the privately owned haciendas in Catalina Foothills Estates. The patterned clay tile floors and fireplaces are all original to the building and handcrafted, as are the exposed ceiling beams and antique carved doors rescued from old Mexican churches.

St. Philip's In The Hills Episcopal Church has retained its historic integrity, still serving as a parish church in the Diocese of Arizona. Starting soon after Josias Thomas Joesler’s 1928 arrival in Tucson, the church and its plaza were planned by Joesler as architect together with John and Helen Murphy, who owned the land, as developers and builders. Their collaboration continued through the first service on Christmas Eve in 1936 until 1957. Although Joesler died in 1956, he had already drawn plans to extend the church in 1951, doubling the length of the nave from 52 feet to 104 feet. Gordon Maas Luepke, who had studied with Joesler worked with the Murpheys and supervised the completion of the extension in 1957.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the parish, remodeling in 1986 within the church building added a new Holtkamp pipe organ in the rear of the nave and, at the north end of the nave, transept aisles extending east and west to provide additional seating facing the altar. Buttresses were added to the exterior to strengthen the walls due to the increased length of the church, and the columns of the nave were replaced by steel reinforced plaster columns shaped to match the original ones. Edward H. Nelson was the architect, and T. W. Roof the construction company. Further development has taken place in choir rooms, classrooms and offices that is compatible with the 1951 Joesler/Murphey design, including the additions of a Sacristy and Vestry; rooms, respectively, for the Altar Guild and Clergy. The Columbarium Garden and Carillon were added in 1987 and completed according to plans that Joesler and Murphey had suggested in 1951.

After the 1941 construction of the Murphey/Joesler/Catalina Foothills Estates offices on the west side of Campbell, the El Merendero/La Parroquia ranch house was acquired by the church congregation for parish activities. Subsequently the original St. Philip’s Plaza on the east side of Campbell Avenue was deeded to the church. It was given to the congregation to be maintained as a park, carrying on the Joesler-Murphey concept of the church overlooking the village square.

El Merendero/ La Parroquia has had several changes. The enclosure of the open east and west porches by adding windows may have compromised the integrity of the building as an example of Joesler’s hacienda style; nevertheless, by keeping the red clay tiled roof facing the Plaza which repeats a motif in the cloisters of the church it retains its integrity as part of Joesler’s and the Murphey’s overall plan. They also extended the building to the north to make space for meeting rooms and a library while retaining the characteristics of a one-story brick Sonoran hacienda, with a parapet, tiled fireplaces, high ceilings, roof beams, and antique carved wooden doors. The interior details also retain their integrity as examples of Joesler’s and Helen Murphey’s work providing the opportunity to visitors to see the rich domestic interior design of a Mexican hacienda.

Over the years, changes were made to the walls and entries of the plaza. The West wall was replaced in the 1965 widening of Campbell Ave. when 12 feet were taken from the Plaza, and the South wall was replaced in the 1984 River Road realignment. In 2002 these walls were restored with impact-resistant materials and sheathed in stucco to match the existing walls. They were raised to block traffic noise in the plaza, as 1500 ft. were taken from the southwest corner of the plaza where River Road meets Campbell Ave. The east and North walls (1936) remain intact. They were resurfaced in 2002 but retain their original appearance.

The East and North entries also remain intact. The 1965 Southwest entry with the wrought iron gate, designed by Jonathan Mabry, was moved out of the impact zone and restored at that corner. In 2003 the Southwest entry acquired a wrought iron gate to restrict entry from River Road. Though smaller, the Plaza remains a peaceful, shady place that is used and enjoyed and adds character to the surroundings.

No longer church property since 1941, the Joesler/Murphey buildings west of the Plaza are now part of a newly-developed area of shops, galleries, restaurants and office buildings called Joesler Village. The three Joesler buildings are still there but altered.

East of Campbell Ave. and south of River Road the area has a bank building, various specialty shops, restaurants and a small suites hotel called Windmill Inn. The area is now known as St. Philip’s Plaza, though it has no connection with the church.

However, what the Murpheys and Joesler imagined for their Spanish Colonial village square has become a reality with interesting and varied shops, art galleries and restaurants, as well as banks and business offices, creating a suburban community center as a landmark entry to the Catalina Foothills Estates.

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[source: St. Philip's In The Hills]