The historic St. Liborius Catholic Church in St. Louis that closed 30 years ago is being reincarnated as a skatepark and community arts center.
Elizabeth Olwig provided the fascinating details in an article in the latest issue of Show Me Route 66 magazine, published by the Route 66 Association of Missouri.
The church, located one block from the City 66 alignment, was built in 1889 to serve the community of German immigrants. The church was declared a city landmark in 1975 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
However, the church was closed and deconsecrated in 1992 as the size of the congregation shrank. For a time, it was used as the Karen House homeless shelter, but the structure itself continued to decline.
Then fate stepped in ten years ago in the form of Dave Blum, a local construction worker and farmer who spent years working on projects alongside Bob Cassilly at St. Louis’ famous City Museum.
Dave was visiting the New Roots urban farm next door when staff members from the Karen House approached him about helping with some badly needed repair work. Once inside the church, Dave realized that intensive and urgent repairs to shore up the building were needed and informed the staff that soon it would be too far gone to save. The staff handed the church keys over and the rehab work began, with David launching what would become a community effort to give St. Liborius a second lease on life.
Today, St. Liborius is known as SK8 Liborius, a skateboarder’s dream. The majestic church is a breathtaking juxtaposition of old and new. Rows of wooden pews have made way for a wooden 40-foot verticle ramp, the Midwest’s largest half-pipe. Gothic wall decor has been replaced by work from some of the world’s best graffiti artists. The faces that devout parishioners used to occupy are now filled by dozens of teens and young adults. Many of the windows retain their original stained glass, spilling colorful light onto scenes of positive activity once again.
Blum, along with co-owners Brian Bedwell and Joss Hay, repaired the spire with buckets of mortar, financing the preservation work with private skate lessons and raves in the church basement.
The owners want to convert the rest of the church complex into an art center, bed-and-breakfast and a community “maker space” run by Liborius Urban Arts Studios. They have launched an online fundraiser for that effort and raised more than $50,000 so far.
Here’s a documentary about the project:
Olwig’s article closes with this:
Visitors to SK8 Liborius aren’t limited to young skateboarders. Blum likes to talk about the day a group of nuns from The Little Sisters of the Poor visited the site on a workday and began shooting the breeze. Dressed in their full habits, the nuns tested their skateboarding skills and share a beer with Blum afterward. One of the nuns made a comment that’s stuck with Blum. She said he was doing “the Lord’s work” by restoring the church and helping the local kids.
(Screen-capture image from video of Dave Blum at the SK8 Liborius half-pipe in St. Louis)