Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago (1928) Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1910 America's first billionaire gave a final gift of $10 million to the University of Chicago. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had given the school the seed money to get off the ground in the early 1890s, and after nearly 20 years of continuing contributions the Standard Oil plutocrat had decided that this donation would be his last. The gift came with a stipulation however, $1.5 million of the awarded funds had to be set aside for the construction of a chapel on the school's campus - a request that would take more than a decade to fulfill.
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, 5850 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1892 the University opened with just three buildings on its Hyde Park campus. The school had hired Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb to develop a master plan, and Cobb's three Gothic Revival structures set in stone a design program that the institution would follow well into the middle of the twentieth century. And as the student population grew, so did the collegial Gothic campus. On September 24, 1924 the University announced that they were undertaking a massive 15-year building program along the north side of the Midway Plaisance - the wide green belt that connnected Jackson and Washington Parks - and filling-in the remaining empty spaces of the campus from Drexel Boulevard east to Dorchester Avenue. Fourteen years after Rockefeller's designated gift, the Univeristy Chapel was finally going to get built.
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago; Lee Oskar Lawrie & Ulric Henry Ellerhusen, sculptors / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
University president Ernest DeWitt Burton had called on New York based architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue to design the chapel in advance of the formal announcement. Goodhue had built-up quite a reputation as one of the country's premiere Gothic Revivalists through his partnership with architect Ralph Adams Cram. The revialist duo were a hot commodity in translating old European styles into modern contemporary structures, and when they went their separate ways in 1913 Goodhue carried on in that tradition. Ironically, even though U of C was interested in Goodhue's Gothic genius, the architect was hard at work on two major projects, the streamlined Nebraska State Capitol Building and Los Angeles Public Library, demonstrated that Goodhue's masterful hand extended all the way from 12th century spires and sprockets to the 20th century geometry of Art Deco.
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago; Hildreth Meiere, mosaicist; Alois Lange, woodcarver / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Goodhue didn't make it to Chicago for the September announcement, he had dropped dead of a heart attack on April 23, 1924 five days before his 55th birthday. The office still had a large number of projects on the drafting boards or under construction, so the remaining team reorganized as Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates and carried on their boss's work. One long time associate, sculptor Lee Oskar Lawrie had come to work with Bertram Goodhue in 1895 at the start of Goodhue's partnership with Ralph Cram. Lawire had emigrated from Germany to Chicago with his parents, and became one of the thousands of craftsmen who worked on the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in the early 1890s. He moved east, met-up with Goodhue and Cram, and translated the architects Gothic inspired details into stone. Ulric Henry Ellerhusen came to the United States in 1894 and studied with famed Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft at the School of the Art Institute. He and Lawrie would carve all the stone on Goodhue's massive chapel, with Lawrie in charge of everything below the 30-foot-high line and Ellerhusen for everything above. Hildreth Meiere who had also studied at the Art Institute, was a muralist and mosaicist who was working on the Nebarska State Capital building when she was asked to create mosaic murals for the interior of the chapel, and Alois Lange, a woodcarver who had emigrated to the U.S. from Oberammergau, Germany - the woodcarving capital of the world - was brought in to work his magic on virtually every piece of interior woodwork.
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The building was dedicated on October 28, 1928 with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in attendance. Senior was 89-years-old at the time and Junior had pretty much taken over for his father. Rockefeller not only paid tribute to his parents, he also announced that he was creating a $1 million endowment for the building in honor of his mother Laura Spelman Rockefeller, and dedicated the building in the service of tolerance for all in the true meaning of Christian love and charity. This didn't settle well with the Catholic Church in Rome. The following February the Vatican published a treatise by the Pope slamming Rockefeller for his attempt at trying to make all religions equal.
[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, Hyde Park, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Although Rockefeller Senior's last university directed donation had come in 1910, the Standard Oil funded largess kept on flowing when Junior ponied-up $300,000 for a 72-bell carillon that was installed in the 200 foot tower in 1932. After Senior's death in 1937 at age ninety-seven, the school honored their founding benefactor by renaming the Univeristy Chapel the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. And the fortune he had created, which had taken quite a hit as a result of the Great Depression, was estimated to be worth over nearly half-a-trillion 2013-era dollars.