Louis Malo: Builder of the Basilica

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On April 22, 1928, a “special dispatch” on the construction of Lewiston’s Saint Mary’s Church on the corner of Oxford and Cedar streets was published by the Portland Sunday Telegram. An architectural rendering of the church was included with a formal photograph of Louis Malo superimposed in the upper-right-hand corner. The article said “the building is being erected by Louis Malo of Lewiston, a contractor of long experience, and who has built many fine buildings in Lewiston and other parts of the state.”

Another article dated Aug. 18, 1928, featured information about the soon-to-be-built Saints Peter and Paul Church. The plans proposed by the Boston architects O’Connell and Shaw had recently been accepted. It was almost seven years before construction on what would later become the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul began in earnest, also under the supervision of general contractor Louis Malo.

In the 66 years he lived, Malo and his company, Louis Malo & Sons, would build a variety of buildings across the state of Maine. Although he is most remembered for the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, he would build other churches, schools, civic buildings and even a few unexpected structures.

Born in St. Damase, Province of Quebec, in 1872, Louis Malo came to the United States with his family when he was 9 years old and was educated in Lewiston’s parochial schools. He was industrious from his youth; he began working for his father, who was also a contractor. He would work in the mills for a period of time and then he learned the carpentry and masonry trades.

An early mention of Louis Malo exists in Father Antonin Plourde, O.P.’s 1970 100-year history of the parish, “Cent ans de vie paroissiale SS. Pierre et Paul de Lewiston.” According to this source, in 1904 Malo built the temporary “shed” structure on a brick foundation near the old church that was demolished. Whether this was on his own or part of another company is unknown.

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H.F. Roy’s 1915 book “Franco-Americans of the State of Maine” includes Malo and states he “learned the trade of carpenter and that of brick and stone mason as well. He was employed for seven years as foreman for Lemieux & Chevalier.” In approximately 1912, he went into business for himself. He did the masonry on the S.B.S. Lithuanian Hall built in 1914, which was formerly located on lower Lisbon Street and has since been demolished.

A FAMILY BUSINESS

Four of his six sons (Felix, Maurice, Emile and Louis) would work with him in the business; as “Louis Malo & Sons” they built a prodigious number of buildings.

To name just a few: Saints Peter & Paul School on Bates Street (since demolished, the project began in 1920 and was completed in 1924); the Marcotte Home (Maison Marcotte, completed in 1928); and the Knights of Columbus Building at 103 Park St. (completed in 1928).

Louis Malo & Sons would build an addition to Rumford’s former Stephens High School in 1931 and Martel School in 1933. Also in 1932 and 1933, Malo’s company would complete both the north and south wing additions to the University of Maine at Orono’s Stevens Hall. These elegant two-and-a-half-story Classical Revival buildings complement the central building’s style and have a distinctive location on the school’s mall.

And they built churches, large and small.

In 1926 and 1927, Louis Malo & Sons would work with Boston architect T.G. O’Connell on Saint Mary’s Church on Western Avenue in Augusta. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1928, the Malos would complete St. Mary’s Church in Lewiston in spite of a freak gale wind that ripped the staging off the building when it was only half complete. The church has since been converted into the Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center.

In 1931, Louis Malo & Fils would complete St. Denis Church in Fort Fairfield, some 250 miles north of Lewiston.

And of course, Louis Malo’s crowning achievement would be what was then called Saints Peter and Paul Church, the exterior of which was completed in 1935.

Part 2 of “Louis Malo: Builder of the Basilica” will be published next Sunday.

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