Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chicago Temple Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Chicago Temple Building (1924) Holabird & Roche, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The spire of the First Methodist Episcopal Church first rose up on the corner of Washington and Clark in downtown Chicago in 1845, the final time was when one topped this high-rise office building dedicated in 1924. The First United Methodist Church still calls the building home, and has worshiped on the site since moving a log cabin to the spot in 1839.

  [Chicago Temple Building, First United Methodist Church, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the congregation first arrived with their log-walled structure 172 years ago,   Chicago's population numbered around 4400 people and the church was located in the heart of town. Eventually four churches were clustered in a two block stretch of Washington Street, the Universalists were right next door to the Methodists, while the Unitarians and Presbyterians were across the street. By 1857 the small town feel of the city was changing as the population grew and spread its wings out over the prairie, and the downtown churches started following their congregations out from the city center and into the neighborhoods. First Methodist stayed around because of a clause in the leasehold on their land. The family who donated the plot to the church in the 1830s stipulated that the property would remain in the Methodists hands as long as they remained on the deeded corner. So unlike the other churches who saw their property values rise as the area became the city's commercial core, sold and then used the income to move and build anew, First Methodist was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  [Chicago Temple Building, First United Methodist Church, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

To get the most out of their now valuable corner and still provide church services, an enterprising group of elders came up with an idea to build a new building that would contain commercial and retail space on the first two floors, with a two-story auditorium space above for meetings and worship. The rental income was to be used to build more church buildings in Chicago and provide financial support for area congregations. The building burned down in the 1871 fire and was replaced with a larger structure, which in turn was demolished to make way for Holabird & Roche's super-sized Chicago Temple Building. The plan was so successful that by the time the tower rose in 1923 rental income over the years had covered a portion of the construction costs of over 200 churches in the Chicago area.
The Gothic revival skyscraper almost didn't get built as planned. The city had a building height restriction of 260 feet at the time, and with the base of the tower rising to the allowable height the 140 foot spire didn't conform to code. The ordinance allowed setbacks based on a complicated formula of building mass, street frontage and lot size, but the spire overloaded the calculation. Needless to say - it got built anyway. In 1952, Myrtle Walgreen donated money to the church for a small chapel to built inside the framework of the spire in memory of her late husband Charles, founder of the chain of drugstores. The Guinness Book of World Records named it the tallest place of worship in the world, the highest in the heavens.

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