The Cathedral of St. Philco

There it was.  An old vintage cathedral radio.  Not one of those reproductions you can purchase at the discount furniture store, mind you… no, this was an honest-to-Marconi vintage radio from the 1930’s.   There are different types of 1930’s-era radio sets, including the utilitarian “farm” set and the boxy “tombstone” set.  You could also get a “breadboard” set if you had the mechanical skills to build your own receiver.

But no.  I wanted a cathedral set.

1930's-era Philco cathedral radio.  Just the way I found it on eBay.
1930’s-era Philco cathedral radio. Just the way I found it on eBay.

And luckily, I found one on eBay.  Someone previously gutted the wooden cabinet – the vacuum tubes, the wires, the capacitors, all were removed  Only the wooden cabinet itself remained, which under further investigation is not a “cathedral” radio, but instead may have once been known as an early 1930’s Philco Jr. “Baby Grand” receiver, most likely an 80B.  Yeah, say that ten times fast.

Hey, if the electronics aren’t in the machine, that’s fine by me.  This way, I don’t have to deal with ripping out vacuum tubes and other materials, and thus not incur the wrath of every antique radio collector out there.  “You Philistine,” they would say.  “That unit could have been repaired, and you destroyed it!”

Yeah, I’d probably feel the same way if I saw someone take a vintage RCA Victor “His Master’s Voice” Nipper papier-mâché figurine and spray-paint a black ring around one of its eyes, and then try to sell the piece as a Spuds McKenzie collectible.  Urgh.  Yeah.  I felt it.  Urgh.

But you people have no idea what I’m going to do with this little project.

Walk with me.

The cabinet looks reasonable.  But I don’t want “reasonable.”  I want fantastic.

And that means that this old veneer has to go.  Especially the pitted veneer around the outer border.  I shaved off as much as I could with a chisel, then sanded down the remainder.

Now it looks like this.

IMG_20150322_172651That’s pretty good… but I’m not done yet.

The veneer along the cabinet sides was also cracking and pitting.  It took me a few days to chisel the old, worn veneer off the sides of the chassis.  Then came sanding.  I had to sand the chassis front and side, until the sanded areas were nice and smooth and as flat as possible.

That’s pretty sweet… but I’m not done yet.

Now I have to take care of the interior.

IMG_20150322_172627This is what the interior of the radio cabinet looks like.  Urgh.  You could hide a bunch of things in there.  Or maybe you wouldn’t want to.

So the first thing I did was contact a stained glass supplier.  I wanted two bags of walnut-colored glass tiles, as well as some other glass tile sacks.

A few days later, I received my glass tiles.  And I immediately went to work.

I started gluing the walnut tiles on the front of the radio cabinet, adhering them to the wood them with a special bonding compound.  The tiles went up the side, and I cracked some of the tiles with a clipper to create tiny chip-sized nuggets to fit in the small areas of the chassis.

This took a lot of patience and even more concentration.  And eventually, I came through with this exterior.


Not bad, eh?

For the interior of the unit, I alternated silver-mirror tiles and green-mirror tiles in a checkerboard pattern.  It wasn’t perfect – the tiles weren’t always exactly sized – but the effect looks suitable enough.


As for the center window, I had a champagne-swirled pane of stained glass that was purchased for a Dream Window and never used.  At one point, I thought about trimming the pane to fit the individual openings where the original fabric grill once resided; instead, I simply trimmed one big pane into the window itself, and I would cover the glass exterior with something else.

I turned the construct around and took a picture of the front.


You know, when you have stained glass left over from nearly a dozen and a half Dream Windows and other projects… you find a place to use them.  And in this case, I decided that the exterior walls of the cathedral radio would look great with swirled glass and colored glass and other kinds of glass “paneled” up the side of the chassis.

You like?


Yeah.  Looks like a church designed by someone in the Haight-Ashbury District.

A while back, I purchased a vintage blue cobalt mirror for a Dream Window project.  Unfortunately, the mirror arrived in pieces, fractured by improper packaging compounded by rough shipping.

I still had the mirror pieces.

Maybe I can salvage something here.

Yep.  I glued whatever wasn’t broken as the back wall of the church.

And as this is still a radio by design, I snagged some waterslide decals with a PHILCO logo.  And a decal on the right side, along with the hymnal board on the left side, looks nice on the mirrored backsplash, yes?


For the interior walls of the church, I thought about gluing tiles all the way up the sides… and then, in the end, I decided a different tactic would be proper.  I stopped at my local fabric store and picked up 18 inches of black velvet.  Then, using a super-strong adhesive spray (3M Super 77), I affixed the velvet fabric to the interior walls of the cabinet.

This is not going to be some drab wooden miniature church.  No sirree.  I want to turn this into a dedicated miniature house of worship.  Complete with pews, an altar, maybe a cross.

You can see the hymnal board in the previous photo; it came with little cutout numbers and signage.  This should work nicely.

I wanted the interior of this cathedral to resemble the vibe and interior of the house of worship to which I most specifically associate my religious background – the church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar.

Standard dollhouse furniture is constructed on a 1:12 ratio – one inch equals one foot.  I did acquire one piece of church-related dollhouse furniture on eBay – a nice little wooden cross-decorated altar piece.

But rather than searching out mismatched pieces here and there, I looked online and found a company in Michigan that manufactures church dollhouse furniture by hand.  I ordered a couple of pews; hopefully that will make my little cathedral stand out.  And someone on eBay sold a pulpit that matched up with the furniture.  Nice like spice.

As I built this object, I thought about the last time I created any sort of “dollhouse” in my life.  And for this, I have to go back to maybe 1975.  I was living with my Grandma Betty in Boston in the summer, and after summer was done, she would bring me back to the Capital District for school.

During one of those summers, I acquired an old cardboard box.  I don’t remember what the box contained, it was about maybe three feet cubed.  I used scissors and a bottle of Elmer’s Glue, and cut the top sides of the box into a slanted roof.  I used a pencil to draw a door, then used the pencil tip to punch through the cardboard to open the door.  For windows, I carved out little window-shaped holes in the side of the box, and I used strips of paper that were rolled onto little toothpicks to create draperies.

Hey, I was eleven years old, what were you expecting out of me, the second coming of fallingwater?

When I came back to Albany after my summer stay with Grandma Betty was completed, I gave my sister the cardboard box dollhouse.  I think she played with it for two days and then she threw it away.  Oh well…

She’s probably forgotten all about that gift.  I haven’t.  And in the end, I kinda wished I took a picture of that project.

No matter.  There’s plenty of pictures for this current project.

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And thus I create… “The Cathedral of St. Philco.”

This took over a year, from conception to inception to completion.  I went through different ideas and different concepts.

But in the end, I think it turned out nicely.

In all honesty, I truly need this creativity in my life.  I need to extrude these fantastic ideas, these concepts, these various dreams and imaginations and concepts – and somehow turn them into a reality.

Just like this one.  Right?

So now comes my next plan.  I’m going to box this up, gift wrap it and send it to someone as a very special Christmas present.

And I really hope they enjoy the gift.

Because I enjoyed making it.