Chicago Temple - First United Methodist Church
by: chicago designslinger
[Chicago Temple - First United Methodist Church (1924) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Approximately 400 feet above the sidewalks of downtown Chicago sits the most elevated place of worship in the city - literally. Tucked in behind the Gothic arches of a 20th century skyscraper, the Sky Chapel is a unique space in a unique structure.
[Chicago Temple - First United Methodist Church Main Sanctuary, 77 W. Washington Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The First United Methodist Church has occupied the southeast corner of Washington and Clark Streets for a very long time. In 1838 they moved the small frame church building located on the northwest bank of the Chicago River where they had been holding services since 1833. The 30 member congregation had recently acquired a corner lot in the heart of town and floated their little chapel across the Chicago River, then to get it into place rolled it across the town's muddy surface on large logs. Eventually the Baptists, Presbyterians, Unitarians and Universalists joined the Methodists in a line of churchly structures that ran along Washington Street from La Salle eastward to Wabash. As the town grew into a city, only the Methodists stayed put.
[Chicago Temple - First United Methodist Church, Sky Chapel /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
As the city grew larger the humble church building was replaced by a series of ever larger structures. Then as the First World War came to a close the leaders of First Methodist Episcopal Church began talking about finally leaving the downtown district for the suburbs. But instead of selling their very valuable $3 million plot of land, they decided to tear down their old 1870s-era building, hire architects Holabird & Roche, and build a tall $2 million income producing skyscraper with a 500-seat sanctuary located on the ground floor. When the cornerstone was laid in 1922 Edna May Searles was the honored guest. In 1832 her great-grandfather Reverend Jesse Walker came to the small prairie community of 100 inhabitants where he held regularly scheduled religious services in the timber log building that was floated across the river 6 years later. Holabird & Roche's very non log cabin-like structure for the First Methodist Church was consecrated in 1924, and a new name was carved into the limestone panel above the Washington Street entrance that read: Chicago Temple Building.
[Chicago Temple - First United Methodist Church, Sky Chapel Altar Face (1952) Alois Lang, master carver /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The sky-high chapel came into being 30 years later when Mrs. Myrtle Walgreen and family made a sizeable donation for a contemplative space to be built in honor of her husband Charles. This dynamic duo had opened a drug store on the south side of Chicago in 1901, and by the time the tribute to her late husband was dedicated in 1952 the Walgreen company had grown to become one of the nation's preeminent drug store chains. And two years after the dedication, Mrs. Walgreen's grandson Peter Whitlock Walgreen Dart married Janelli Charters in front of master wood carver Alois Lang's altar face depicting the figure of Christ looking-out over downtown Chicago, with roses from his grandmother's Dixon, Illinois estate decorating the altar top.