The Chapel of the Holy Cross has been one of Sedona's most beloved landmarks since 1956. However, had it not been for World War II, the concrete-and-glass structure with the 90-foot cross might have ended up in Hungary.
© Northern Arizona University Cline Library
Sedona's Chapel of the Holy Cross, shown in the 1950s, welcomes millions of visitors each year. The chapel's design was inspired by the Empire State Building. (Photo by Josef Muench)
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By Kayla Frost
In 1932, sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude was imagining a church for modern times when she came across the Empire State Building, still under construction in New York. To her, the building’s major beams looked like a colossal cross — the perfect structure for a church. “It was an image which would haunt me until it became reality,” she said.
Later, in California, Staude collaborated on the design of that church with Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. They wanted to build the church in Los Angeles on land owned by the Catholic Church, but the archbishop rejected the concept as too futuristic. In 1937, Hungarian nuns agreed that the church should be built overlooking the Danube, but the plan was abandoned when World War II erupted.
In 1941, Staude and her husband, Tony, bought Doodlebug Ranch, in Sedona, as a refuge from a possible attack on the West Coast, and when Staude’s parents died, she decided to build the church in their memory.
But Staude didn’t want to build it just anywhere, so she combed the red rocks for the perfect site. A magnificent outcropping, more than 200 feet tall, caught her attention. Upon closer inspection, Staude found a medical symbol, Rx, painted on the foot of the rocks. It might have been a sign that this was, indeed, the right location — Staude’s parents had run the Brunswig Wholesale Drug Co.
Turned out, the land belonged to the U.S. Forest Service, which refused to give Staude the permit she needed to forge ahead. So she flew to Washington, D.C., and described her dream to Senator Barry Goldwater, who convinced the secretary of the interior to grant the permit. After Staude got approval from the local diocese, she hired San Francisco architects Anshen & Allen to formally design the chapel.
A concrete-and-glass structure dominated by a 90-foot cross, the chapel was truly a feat to build. Workers from the William Simpson Construction Co. had to overcome Sedona’s lack of material resources — including water and electricity at the site — and the dramatic changes in temperature that affected the building process. The chapel finally opened to much acclaim in 1956, 24 years after Staude first imagined it.
Today, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of Sedona’s most beloved landmarks and receives international visitors of all denominations.
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