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Film examines four decades of historic Sanibel church

By Staff | Apr 30, 2015

An April 20 documentary profiled a 40-year snippet of the St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Sanibel. CRAIG GARRETT

An interesting slice of the history of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church was explained in an April 20 film.

The documentary shown in the church sanctuary used archived church photos, newspaper clippings, a dozen interviews, home movies and other sources to tell the story of the church in its first four decades, the years 1959-1999. The church’s founding in Sanibel dates to the late 19th century.

Sanibel filmmaker Rusty Farst produced the 30-minute documentary. The church committee steering the project over two years “knew exactly what they wanted,” said Farst, who had this month released a documentary on the history of the Santiva mailboat that ended service to the islands in 1963. “They were wonderful to work with.”

St. Michael and All Angels dates to 1890 when the Rev. George F. Fitzhugh conducted services in Sanibel homes and at the historic Four Gospels Church in the island’s east end.

The diocese hopscotched around the island for a few decades, ending at its location off Periwinkle in 1961. St. Louis architect Gustel Kiewitt designed the Gothic-style church featuring his lamella dome structure that lacked central pillar support. His design work included the St. Louis Arena. The story was that a church member had befriended the famed architect on a beach walk in Sanibel. He died at age 62 in 1964.

The initial church building had seating for about 70 and the entry doors faced Periwinkle. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in September 1960. The church expanded and later included the popular Noah’s Ark resale shop on its grounds. It was also one of the nation’s first churches to fully integrate in the 1950s.

Gustel Kiewitt’s daughter Kitty Mollman attended the April 20 premiere at St. Michael, saying the return to Sanibel, where her family owned a home in the 1950s, was emotional.

“I’m very proud of what my father accomplished,” she said, “but it was also very nostalgic.”