By spring, restoration should be complete on the ornate auditorium of the German House, the 82-year-old Lafayette Square landmark where the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra recorded in the 1950s.
The four-story brick and terra cotta building, at 2345 Lafayette Avenue, has been vacant most of this decade. Opened in 1928 as a German cultural center called Das Deutsche Haus, the building later carried the St. Louis House name and was home to two Christian schools before it was boarded up and seemingly forgotten.
The Church of Scientology, which paid $1.9 million for the building in 2007, is reviving it. After a year of planning, work began this summer to restore the building's main auditorium, a smaller side auditorium and the entrance facing Lafayette.
The main auditorium's marble wainscoting and terrazzo lobby floor will be freed from layers of paint or dirt and returned to their original gleam.
Seth Mayer, project manager of Anderson Building Co., which is overseeing the work, said gilded pilasters and intricate plaster work on the walls, balcony and over the stage also will be restored.
Still shining in sunlight are west-facing leaded-glass windows depicting the faces of German composers. The stained-glass skylight in the foyer needs only minor repairs. Original Egyptian-style lighting pendants also survived. They will be removed from storage, cleaned and rehung.
The exterior needs some tuckpointing, repair of terra cotta ornamentation and a good cleaning, Mayer said.
"Structurally, the building is in fantastic condition," he said.
After thieves took copper gutters and downspouts, water leaked through the roof last year and ruined much of the auditorium's maple floor, which must be replaced. Mayer said the original 'sleeper" floor system of lightweight concrete and wood supports beneath the maple also will be replaced.
The specially built floor and 28-foot coffered ceiling contributed to the excellent acoustics that led the St. Louis Symphony to use the auditorium as a recording studio in the mid-1950s. During the same era, "minor league" opera companies also performed there, church and Anderson Building officials said.
The restoration will cost $940,000, plus about $100,000 to deal with lead paint.
Chad Lane, the church's executive director in St. Louis, said the nearly 65,000-square-foot building is the ideal size for expansion in the metro area.
"It was quite a search we did," he said. "We have very specific requirements on the square footage and such."
The Scientology center at 6901 Delmar Boulevard in University City will remain open.
Once auditorium and foyer restoration work is done at the German House, work will begin to renovate the rest of the building for Scientology classes, counseling and administrative offices, Lane said. Church officials hope the entire project will be done in about a year.
The total cost has yet to be determined, but Lane led a fundraising effort that generated about $4 million. After roof repairs were made last year, detailed planning on building restoration and renovation got under way.
Hedda Hall, who lives a block from the building on Whittemore Place, said church officials went door to door three years ago to tell residents they had bought the structure. Hall, 38, said Thursday that she was glad it is being returned to use.
"My impression is they have a lot of money, so they have the ability to do a nice job," she said.
Linda Skinner, president of the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee, said the project will eliminate a neighborhood eyesore. She added that she approves of the church's decision to allow outside groups and individuals to use the auditorium for weddings, meetings and other events.
"It's nice that someone is taking ownership of it and actually restoring it," she said.