GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Warren Street, the Gothic influences present in St. Mary’s – St. Alphonsus Regional Catholic School provide some of the most impressive architecture one will find in the city of Glens Falls – and that’s just from the outside. Inside, proms, musicals and a lot more have been held for 90 years, in a grand hall recognizable to those paying attention to what’s happening across the pond.
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was held on Monday, following several days during which the monarch’s body was laid in state in her coffin at Westminster Hall – the oldest building of the Parliamentary Estate in London. It sits in the footprint of Parliament halls and buildings dating back to the 11th century. Meanwhile, in Glens Falls, a replica of the same interior space – on a smaller scale – has a history still less than a century old.
When St. Mary’s – St. Alphonsus was built in 1932, it was partially as part of a rivalry between two Glens Falls churches. One was St. Mary’s Church, still located on Warren Street across from the school. The other was the First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls, on Glen Street, which was built in the 1920s. When it came, there was a sense that St. Mary’s had been one-upped.
“The pastor at St. Mary’s at the time (Fr. Benedict Gillon) said, ‘No way – not on my watch are they going to build something more beautiful in my town,'” explained Father Scott VanDerveer, the current Pastor of St. Mary’s, on Monday. “He wound up hiring the same architect (who worked on First Presbyterian) and had him build the school, which had the same architectural style – and a much taller tower than First Presbyterian.”
The architect, Ralph Adams Cram, finished St. Mary’s – St. Alphonsus in time for its first school year to open in the fall of 1932, giving a new home to a school that had previously operated elsewhere in the city since 1883. During the Great Depression of the 1920s, the pastor asked the congregation at the time to give a single dollar to the construction if they could – even if they were already giving to the Parish itself.
The result: Communities sacrificed whatever they had to, even in a time of great economic hardship, to help see the construction through. Today the school still stands – and inside it, the hall that replicates Westminster itself has seen 90 years of proms, balls and alumni reunions. Just earlier in 2022, it was home to a student production of “Seussical: The Musical.” VanDerveer hopes to add new uses for it in the future.
When he enters the hall itself, VanDerveer immediately points out the ornate, stained-glass windows, followed by the roof. Both are crafted with intricate detail, preserved through 90 years of use. The hall sports over 1,000 square feet of terracotta, along with ceramic tile and other materials that require upkeep to stay looking as good as they deserve.
Tuition is low at St. Mary’s – St. Alphonsus, at around $5,000 per student. Around $84,000 in Parish funds go into maintaining the school every year.
The school boasts its own huge list of construction materials – of which the replica Westminster Hall uses only a part. The 115,000-square-foot building uses 4,500 tons of crushed stone, 7,500 barrels of cement, and 1.5 million bricks, backing up the walls. All of those materials comprise what remains, 90 years later, one of Glens Falls’ most defining buildings. When he watches the news on Monday, Fr. VanDerveer sees the hall where Glens Falls students have lived an important part of their lives.
“It blows me away to see the footage on national and international television, of the Queen lying in that room,” VanDerveer said. “Then to see the camera pan, and get a look at the scope of the building and realize that that great hall, one of the oldest parts of London, is special enough that they would choose it for the lying in state – and we have it right here in Glens Falls. It’s a miniature replica, but just looking at it, you know that miniature doesn’t mean less.”