A huge, round stained-glass window -- 24 feet in diameter -- for years had been the striking, signature detail of the 19th-century First Immanual Lutheran Church in Chicago.

But when the window was destroyed by a storm more than 60 years ago, the congregation didn't have the money to replace it. So the gaping hole above the church's entrance was patched over with blocks of stone and mortar, with a simple cross chiseled into the stone.

It stood that way through the 1950s, when the church became one of Chicago's first to vote to officially integrate, through the 1960s, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached there, and into the 21st century.

But a former Westport man -- whose grandfather and great-grandfather both were pastors at the church -- has over the past five years painstakingly replicated the window based on old photos and installed it as a gift to the congregation.

"What I initially thought was going to be a two-year project turned into five," said Kurt Hoelter, a 1966 Staples High School graduate who now is a builder in Canaan, N.Y.

"The design, construction, permitting and installation phases each presented unique challenges," he said in a news release about the project.

After his parents died, Hoelter was looking for a way to reconnect with his family roots, according to the release. He reached across three generations and 850 miles to find that connection at the historic church tucked between Chicago's Little Italy and what now is the city's medical district.

Hoelter designed the new window based on old photos that his great-grandfather and grandfather took, as well as images of existing windows of the period. He worked with an architect to create a structurally sound, up-to-code frame, according to the release, substituting Douglas fir for pine and adding three-qurater-inch stainless steel rods for reinforcement. Eighteen months and several prototypes later, the 13-panel, three-section frame was completed.

To replicate the glass detail, Hoelter worked with a New York glass artisan who reproduced the patterns and colors to his specifications. After nearly two years of cutting and assembling, the several hundred pieces that make up the window were ready for their new home.

Hoelter rented a 17-foot truck and drove the packed window parts from New York to Chicago.

He worked with volunteers for two weeks to remove the masonry that had filled the void of the old window and four more weeks to assemble and install the new one.

Installation of the one-ton, multicolored window was completed July 12. A dedication ceremony is scheduled Sept. 18.

Asked the value of the window and installation, a spokeswoman said Hoelter did not want to disclose it because the project was a gift.

After graduating from Staples, Hoelter studied at the Silvermine Art Guild, then served in the Army. He is the proprietor of G.F.I. Builders in Canaan, N.Y.