Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church - Isaiah Temple, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church - Isaiah Temple, Chicago (1899) Dankmar Adler, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Dankmar Adler was well known and highly regarded by Chicago's architectural and business community before becoming world famous as the Adler in Adler & Sullivan, after partnering with Louis Sullivan in 1880. When he designed this temple for the Isaiah congregation in 1899 he was working without Sullivan, and commissions were scarce after the economic collapse of 1893. It would be Adler's last project, he died the following year at the relatively young age of 55.
[Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church - Isaiah Temple, Chicago, 4501 S. Vincennes Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Isaiah was one of the early adopters of the Reform movement that swept through American Jewry in the later half of the 19th century which took a more progressive, modern approach in the practice of their faith. Unfortunately a bit of "we're better than you" snobbery developed as well. The seeds of reform were sowed in Germany in the 1820s and many of Chicago's, as well as the country's, Jewish business leaders and social elites were German, or of German ancestry. Any association with the old-school shtetl mentality was looked down upon, and droves of new Jewish immigrants coming to America in the late 1800s were poor, orthodox, and worst of all, primarily from Poland. A social and economic class divide occurred within the Jewish community. Even architecture wasn't immune, many of Reform congregations made it a point to build temple buildings that harkened back to classical Rome or Greece, rather the domes and minarets of the East. In keeping with the congregation's desire to fully embrace their reform aspirations, Adler provided Isaiah with a temple of ancient, Western Empire inspiration.
[Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church - Isaiah Temple, Chicago, Black Metropolis - Bronzeville Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In the early 1920s the neighborhood around 45th and Vincennes was changing. African Americans were pushing out from the tight boundaries of their rigidly defined Black Belt community and moving into the area around Isaiah Temple. So the building was sold to the members of one of the city's older black Baptist congregations, Ebenezer Missionary, founded in 1902. At the time Ebenezer was any one of a number of African American churches that worshiped in the same fashion as their white, main-line Protestant denomination brethren. But in 1930 change was in the air, gospel entered the music scene at Ebenezer, and the rhythm of preaching and sermonizing took on a new cadence when Thomas Dorsey, Ebenezer's music director at the time, introduced a new sound in Adler's acoustically sublime sanctuary. Gone were the days when choirs sang Bach while pastors solemnly recited verse and chapter, and a new mode of worship took hold in African American congregations across the country.