Thursday, February 19, 2015

Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago (1869) Theodore V. Wadskier, architect (1873) Burling & Adler, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1869 the members of Chicago's north side Unitarian congregation moved into a new church building on Dearborn avenue, across the street from today's Washington Square Park. Architect Theodore Wadskier's choice of style and materials were not an uncommon site in Chicago at the time, rough-hewn Lemont limestone enhanced by Gothic Revival details. Two years after being consecrated, the church was caught up in the city's big fire which destroyed most of the church structure. After the inferno had cooled, the congregation raised funds to rebuild using the remaining remnants of the destroyed structure and incorporating them into a new edifice designed by architects Burling & Adler that looked very much like Wadskier's church.

  [Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago, 929 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Unity Church was one of the more renowned Unitarian assemblies in the country. Led by the dynamic Robert Collyer, the Chicago church was a the forefront of articulating the Unitarian interpretation of the Bible which kind of stood outside the traditional Christian belief system, and were therefore very controversial in conservative Christian circles. So much so that Dr. Collyer once asked in a Sunday sermon, "Do Unitarians believe in the Bible?" His response was that, "Every word of God is pure to us. But we reserve the right to determine for ourselves, sincerely and honestly, what is the word of God. The Liberal Christian contends that the doctrine of the Bible's infallibility is as great an evil to the Protestant church as that of Papal infallibility in the church of Rome." With words like these, you can probably see why Unitarians were viewed as radicals by the followers of mainstream Christian orthodoxy. (Frank Lloyd Wright was a Unitarian - that should tell you something) By 1903 most of Unity's congregation had moved to other parts of the city and the trustees sold the property to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine - or Shriners for short.

  [Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago, Unity Church, Washington Square Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The group, a branch of the Masons, another group not without controversy in certain Christian circles, purchased the church to use as a gathering place for special events. When they decided to build a new temple in 1905, their next door neighbors the Oriental Consistory of the Scottish Rite, took over the structure, removed the pews, and used the space to award Masonic degrees to their members, as well as hold meetings and other Masonically related ritual events in their new Scottish Rite Cathedral. Eventually the original Gothic arched window at the front of the building was sealed up, and the organization assembled behind the thick, ashlar stone walls until 2003 when the cathedral and adjoining properties were sold to a developer.
A large, high-rise condo building has been built in the Mason's former parking lot, and the battered 19th century mansions next door which the organization had used as office space, are being converted back into single family homes. As for the church/cathedral/assembly hall building, the original front window has been restored and the structure has been purchased by suburban-based Harvest Bible Chapel, an evangelical Christian congregation who are looking to establish a beach head in the city.

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