Houston is home to several of the country's leading mega-churches so we thought we'd look at the city's religious architecture. Does "great big congregation" automatically translate into "grand and glorious?" Ah, that would be a no.
Before we start our list of Top 10 Churches, let's take a quick look at what's not on the list. Lakewood Church is notably absent. Huge church, huge congregation but it's all housed inside a former basketball stadium that still looks remarkably like a basketball stadium. Yes, they added a stage, an altar, some jumbo screens and changed up the seating, but the basic structure of the building is still the same. It's a basketball stadium.
Also not on our list is the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The inside's not so bad - if you like plain and severe, it's the outside that galls us. It's just plain ugly. (We hope Cardinal DiNardo gets our name right on the excommunication order.) It doesn't suit the space, the scale is all wrong and it's seriously uninviting. It looks like a McMansion with a tiny cross on the roof. We can't really blame Lakewood for looking unchurch-like, it took a standing structure and converted it. But Sacred Heart was designed from the ground up. And it's ugly.
Second Baptist is also missing from our Top 10. In the case of Second Baptist, there wasn't one particular building on any of its five campuses that stood out from the others. Second Baptist does big very well, it just doesn't do it spectacularly well architecturally.
10. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church 7250 Harrisburg
We start our list with the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, located in East End. Standing since the early 1900s, the building echoes the early Texas missions. It's more modest in size than the others that made the Top 10.
9. Christ Church Cathedral 1117 Texas Avenue
Where Immaculate Conception is all straight, simple lines, Christ Church Cathedral has an abundance of ornate flourishes. Inside, the church's ceiling is an intricate maze of wood beams. Outside, it's a little more subdued, but still very elegant. The church was founded in1839 on the same site where it stands today.
8. Trinity Episcopal Church 1015 Holman
An excellent - and excellently maintained - neo-Gothic building, Trinity Episcopal was built in 1919 and designed by Cram and Ferguson. In addition to worship duties, it's the home of the annual Trinity Jazz Festival.
7. St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church 1100 Eldridge Parkway
St. Basil the Great refers to the saint, we know, but it also refers to the grounds as well. They are impressive, with a distinct Old World charm.
6. St. Paul's United Methodist Church 5501 Main
Organized in 1905, St. Paul's is rather conservative looking, but maintains a quiet dignity. We especially like the "antique" stained glass windows (it has to do with the method of creating the windows rather than their age), including three from its original building. (The current site was developed starting in 1927.)
5. St. Basil the Great Chapel at the University of St. Thomas 3800 Montrose
Another church named after St. Basil the Great makes our list, the St. Basil the Great Chapel at the University of St. Thomas. The bright gold dome is a bit much for some, ditto the stark white wall that separates it from the prayer garden next door. And yes, it's a bit of a contrast between the ultra-modern chapel and the ornate Montrose mansion that serves as the school's administration building, but there's something very serene about the site.
4. Congregation Emanu El 1500 Sunset
Several synagogues have disappeared from Houston's landscape, others have been converted into school or Christian church buildings. Congregation Emanu El continues to stand on Sunset, a modern, welcoming building for the Reform Jewish community.
3. St. Anne Catholic Church 2140 Westheimer
St. Anne's was meant to be beautiful from day one. The church's website says, "From the beginning, St. Anne was not only conceived as a place of prayer and worship, but also, like the great churches of the Middle Ages, as a beautiful structure which, in the wealth of its architectural features, would speak to the faithful of the wealth of their Christian heritage." Light and bright, the building thankfully doesn't literally recall the Middle Ages, but we get the idea.
The church and school have been expanded over the years and the newer parts of the campus have managed to blend in nicely with the existing structures. At one of the busiest corners in town traffic-wise, St. Anne's has a challenge in maintaining its serene setting, but it's managed to do so so far.
2. Islamic Dawah Center of Houston 201 Travis
Housed in the former Houston National Bank building, the Islamic Dawah Center of Houston is impressive, inside and out. (Hey, Lakewood, this is how you repurpose a building!) Former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon purchased the building in 1994 to be used as an Islamic center. Houston's lucky the landmark building found a new life or the corner of Main and Franklin might be a parking lot.
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1. Sri Meenakshi Temple Society 17130 McLean Road, Pearland
We know this is a list of Houston's Top 10 Churches and Pearland isn't quite inside the 610 Loop, but the Sri Meenakshi Temple is just too beautiful to leave off our list. Plans for the building started in 1978 and University of Houston Professor of Architecture Sri Ranjit Banerjee contributed to the original design.