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Throwback Thursday: When the round church went flat

There’s just something about a demolition.

We’re fascinated by the sights. We’re envious of the folks swinging the headache ball or pushing the detonator switch. This week we twice got to watch pieces of the old bridge over the Chain of Rocks Canal explode and drop into the water. Last week we saw the old Belleville Swimming Pool turn to rubble.

Who doesn’t love nostalgia mixed with crunching and booming?

The newspaper’s archives are filled with former city halls and former sporting venues and former schools all being turned to rubble to make way for progress. Two past episodes of Throwback Thursday covered the demolition of the old Busch Stadium and of the old St. Clair County Courthouse.

So with visions of exploding bridges still dancing in our heads, today we throwback to 2005 and 2006, when “the round church” gave up its place at the heart of Fairview Heights to make way for a big retail development.

St. Albert the Great Church was distinctive, round instead of a rectangle and topped by a white dome. It sat right on the area’s busiest intersection, Illinois 159 and Highway 50 in Fairview Heights. The inside was just as impressive with a 1,500-pound sculpture of Jesus with short hair to symbolize a modern-day Christ. Behind the altar were 100 crosses representing different crosses through Christianity’s history. Hovering above the pews was a massive chandelier featuring a crown of thorns overlaid by a crown of Mary.

Parishioner Norm Geolat and his brother-in-law, Monsignor Clement Schindler, designed the church after visiting 14 others in the St. Louis area. The round design came from Priory in St. Louis County and the raised seating was copied from a Jewish synagogue.

Parishioner Joe Kinsella built it in 1966 for $650,000. It took 18 months for his company to complete, and he ranked it as his singular achievement as a builder.

His crews pounded 96 pylons 50 feet deep to form a base for the four large pillars that supported the church. The roof was about 3.5 inches thick and poured from 700 tons of concrete — a spectacle that drew folks to the then-farm community and even caused a few accidents.

The dome was topped with a white fiberglass lantern brought in by helicopter.

After 40 years of serving the faithful and students of the parish school, the congregation just couldn’t refuse the $8.25 million offered by St. Clair Square’s owners for their 7.5 acres. St. Albert the Great made way for The Shoppes at St. Clair Square.

Demolition began in December 2005 on the school and continued on the church through January 2006.

St. Albert and Our Lady of the Assumption had merged in 2003 to become Holy Trinity. They built a new school and church complex for $16 million to the north off Illinois 159.

The $16 million Shoppes at St. Clair Square opened in March 2007.

We await their eventual demolition to make way for?

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