402 Rural Avenue




St. Benedict Catholic Church

Building Name

St. Benedict Catholic Grade School


402 Rural Avenue Decorah, IA 52101

Year Built


Architectural Style

International Style Roof Architecture

In 1963 Charles Altfillisch designed the St. Benedict Elementary School in a version of the International Style specifically called Roof Architecture. The 412 Rural Avenue blueprints illustrate a split-level building with eight classrooms, a chapel, library, music room, offices and a two-story gymnasium/cafeteria designed to accommodate an enrollment of over 200 students in grades one through eight.

The Roof Architectural style is featured in the two roofs on the left front. Notice the projecting gabled roof over the white cross panel, then look above and behind to a second roof. (See first photo below.)

The distinctive serrated roof on the two-story gymnasium/cafeteria shows a zigzag of geometric shapes. These multi-gabled roof patterns are the key design elements of this red brick building. The photo below shows the original vertical slat decoration on the roof barge boards.This decoration was later removed when the building was reroofed.

Another prominent architectural feature is a white cross within beige vertical slats on a rust-colored background. A narrow vertical band of windows–which illuminate the altar at the front of the school’s small indoor chapel–decorates the two sides of this projecting white cross panel.

Decorah newspapers followed the two year progress of the school: the purchase of 16 acres of undeveloped property for the school site, the city approval and construction of a street extension, the architect’s plans, and  the building’s completion. All expenses were financed through pledges, special gifts and the St. Benedict Church building fund to pay for the $275,000 project.

On August 11, 1964, the St. Benedict congregation celebrated two major events: one looking to the future and one looking back to 1864. The new St. Benedict Elementary School was dedicated, and a centennial church service commemorated the first mass at Decorah’s original St. Benedict Church. On this special day St. Benedict School was put to use right away as a luncheon in the new school cafeteria served the many out-of-town and local attendees.

Furnishing adequate space for the increasing enrollment became a problem in the early 1980’s. In 1985, one hundred years after the St. Benedict Church established its first school in Decorah, four classrooms were added to the back wing. The W. Smith Architectural firm designed this addition and matched the window design and brick of the existing building. In 2001 a two-story media center was added to the right front of the school. Designed by KNV Architects, matching brick gave a unified appearance to the 1963 school and its two additions. The complete St. Benedict School blueprints are on file at the school.

International Style/ Roof Architecture influences are seen in other Decorah buildings designed by Charles Altfillisch: the 1960 Decorah Municipal Building (City Hall/Fire House), the 1960 Luther College Valders Science Building, and the original 1963 Luther College Field House.

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