Limestone provides a complementary element for Texas church

February 8, 2001
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The Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Port Arthur, TX, utilizes Texas limestone as a key element of the design.

"The stone was chosen for its texture and color," explained architect Paul N. Hay, AIA. "White brick was utilized on the existing parish campus, and we wanted the old and new to blend."<
The design the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Port Arthur, TX, had a dual purpose -- to provide a complementary backdrop to the sculpture and to reflect the surrounding Southwestern environment. In the end, natural stone was used by the Architectural Alliance to achieve both of these objectives.

"The design goal was to create an environment that represented the faith, heritage and values of the parish, and provided a quiet place for meditation and prayer," explained Paul N. Hay, AIA, of the Architectural Alliance. "A larger-than-life sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, standing on a barren hilltop, is the focal point of the shrine -- with the plaza and buildings simply creating a setting and background for the sculpture."

A primary building material for the project is white Texas limestone, supplied by Marx Building Stone of Leander, TX. According to the architect, the limestone was used in a horizontal ashlar pattern, with pieces measuring 4 to 8 inches tall. "The stone was chosen for its texture and color," Hay said. "White brick was utilized on the existing parish campus, and we wanted the old and new to blend. We had used this stone on a facility in Dayton, TX, so we were familiar with it, and we only had to make one sample panel."

In addition to complementing the surroundings of the parish, the stone helped recreate the classic architecture of the region. "The parish wanted to create a space that was reminiscent of Mexican colonial architecture," Hay said. "The limestone ties in to West Texas and to Mexico. We looked at quite a few stones. The mission style is primarily adobe, but we didn't want to use stucco. We wanted a more durable material, but one that had something with the soft feel that stucco has. The stone helped create a statement of elegance, yet [also] transmits a statement of permanence."

An interesting aspect of the project is the fact that the stonework is load bearing. The stone is adhered to the cmu with masonry ties, and the arches are load-transfer arches built with the stone.<

Load-bearing stone

An interesting aspect of the project is the fact that the stonework is load bearing. "We had done this type of work before." Hay said. "I've spent quite a few years in central and South America, and used a lot of stone, adobe and natural materials. By using load-bearing stone, the advantage is that you save on the structure because you don't have two structural systems. The stone is adhered to the cmu with masonry ties, and the arches are load-transfer arches built with the stone.

"The most difficult aspect could have been finding qualified stone masons," Hay continued. "We were fortunate to find a company in Houston [Hernandez Masonry] that had masons from Mexico with experience working with this material. We have very good brick masons, but we don't use a lot of stone in Southeast Texas. They really were artisans, and they did a great job."

With the masons in place, implementing the design went smoothly. According to Hay, the project started three years ago, and was completed with leadership provided by the pastor, Father T.R. Blanco. "The white limestone, arches and cast stone elements all blended together and helped create the environment that the parish had been dreaming about for over 30 years," Hay said, adding that the project was also satisfying for the Architectural Alliance. "This was one of the highlights of our year. You don't have the opportunity to design shrines too often. We are planning to use more of this particular stone in Southeast Texas. We're doing a church in Livingston right now that will utilize the same material."

Credit Box:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine

Port Arthur, TX

Architect: Architectural Alliance, Inc., Beaumont, TX

General Contractor: Pelco Construction Co., Liberty, TX

Stone Supplier: Marx Building Stone, Leander, TX

Masonry Contractor: Hernandez Masonry, Houston, TX

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