Architect of the Month: Guido Beck, October 2016

Architect of the Month: Guido Beck, October 2016

Guido Beck (1853 – 1936), was a Dubuque architect who specialized in the architecture of churches and schools. Beck was born on January 25, 1853, in Hohenzollern, Germany where he received his early education and later studied architecture at Stuttgart and the University of Heidelberg. As a young architect, he was awarded the position of superintendent and was given one of his first building commissions by the German government to construct an asylum at Schussenried, Germany.  Beck completed the asylum in 1882, and then, against the wishes and advice of all his friends, left his native country and immigrated to the United States. He thought his chances for success were infinitely greater and the field for work much broader in the U.S.

G. Beck

Portrait of Guido Beck

Upon his arrival to the United States, Beck traveled to Rock Island, Illinois and worked as a stone-cutter in the government arsenal. There he familiarized himself with the language and customs, thoroughly mastering the American style of architecture.   With the knowledge he already possessed, Beck quickly became one of the foremost architects in the State of Iowa. In 1885 he came to Dubuque and partnered first with fellow German émigré architect Fridolin Heer.  After a few years, he left the partnership to develop his own architecture practice.  With the booming Catholic population, Beck specialized in church architecture.  He designed over 100 church buildings throughout the region, one as far away as Bozeman, Montana.  Beck-designed churches are found throughout the State of Iowa.  His preferred architectural style was the Gothic Revival style, with its pointed arches and soaring steeples.

Among the notable Dubuque buildings, Beck designed St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, St. Columbkille Catholic Church, St. Joseph Chapel at Loras College, Holy Ghost Church, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the mortuary chapel at St. Raphael Cathedral. Beck also designed many parochial schools and residences including the St. Raphael School on Bluff Street, recently converted into apartments. Beck also designed the following churches in the surrounding area: St. Clement Church in Bankston, St. Joseph Church in Bellevue, St. Martin Church (now St. Matthias Church) in Cascade, and St. Joseph Church in Rickardsville.

John Mullany’s St. Raphael’s Cathedral

John Mullany’s St. Raphael’s Cathedral

St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Built: 1857 – 1861

Located at the intersection of W. 2nd and Bluff Streets

St. Raphael’s Cathedral is John Mullany’s first notable design accomplishment in Dubuque, although the construction may have caused him more grief than triumph with the Financial Panic of 1857 and the tightening of financial support to achieve his initial design. The cathedral is modeled after Magdalen College in Oxford, England. The cornerstone was laid in July of 1857 and the building was completed in 1861. It was over three times larger than its predecessor and witnessed its first Mass, offered by Bishop Loras two months before his death, on Christmas 1857. The cathedral received its formal dedication and blessing on July 7, 1861.

Old Postcard of St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral (circa 1886)

Mullany’s design for the cathedral was 83 feet across the front, with a limestone façade and brick sides. The steeple and tower area were to be 243 feet high. The architectural style is predominately Gothic. The building’s most unusual feature is the lancet window at the base of the tower. Mullany also designed the elaborate altar screen that still exists today, though substantially modified.  There are two entrances at the side of the tower within the body of the building. In Mullany’s original design these two entrance walls were to have terminated in their own gables, with high pinnacles at each of the corners. Mullany also had projected a tall, thin spire roof, but a more abridged 243-foot-high square tower was eventually added in 1876 through a fund-raising effort.

Close up of the Cathedral Screen (circa 2016)

By May 1871, the fund-raising effort to complete the tower had only raised $5,000 of a projected $30,000. In 1872-73, when it was realized that the Cathedral’s foundations would not support a tower of Mullany’s intended height, construction was again halted. Mullany ceased to be associated with the Cathedral at this point and went on to other projects. The 1876 revision of the tower was topped with four pinnacles, instead of Mullany’s planned steeple of cut limestone.
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