Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago (1914) Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If the week of May 10, 1914 was a momentous one for the membership of Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church, it was probably a reflective one for East Coast-based architect Ralph Adams Cram. Known as one of the country's foremost Gothic Revivalists, Cram's oversight of a new church edifice for the 43-year-old congregation marked a turning point in the designer's career. With partners Bertram Goodhue and Frank Ferguson, Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson had become the nation's go-to Gothicists. But on December 31, 1913 Goodhue, whose sharp eye and delicate hand with detail had helped bring acclaim to the partnership, decided to go it alone ending his 21-year professional relationship with Cram. Fourth Church was one of the last commissions they designed together.

  [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Michigan Avenue at Chestnut Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Fourth Church was not technically the city's 4th Presbyterian congregation, but it would be the first with Fourth in its title. The name came into being as the result of a merger between two established Presbyterian congregations - North Church and Westminster Church. Back in 1848, a small cluster of north side Presbyterian believers were tired of having to take the only ferry that crossed the Chicago River in order to get to one of the three existing Presbyterian churches on the more populated south side of town. So they got together and formed the North Presbyterian Church. By the mid-1850s slavery had become a hot topic in the United States. Tempers were flaring, and while all members of North Church believed slavery was evil, the path to the abolition of the inhuman practice divided "Old School" members from "New School" believers. So in 1858 "New Schoolers" formed a mission church on the north side as well, Westminster. In February 1871 past disagreements were put aside and the two congregations came back together again forming Fourth Presbyterian, which would collectively assemble for worship in the Westminster building. On September 9, 1871 the Chicago Tribune reported that new Fourth Church pastor David Swing had "handed its edifice over to Jevne and Almini," the city's top drawer decorating firm, "for new frescoes."  Four weeks later the Chicago Fire leveled the north side of Chicago.

  [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, National Historic Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Church elders decided to rebuild at a new location a few blocks north of their former site and in 1873 moved into their new home on the northwest corner of Superior and Rush Streets, just down the block from the new edifice of the Roman Catholic's Church of the Holy Name. The Presbyterian congregation counted some of the city's wealthiest citizens among its membership. St. James Episcopal Church, three blocks to the south, were no slouches when it came to wealthy, powerful Chicagoans seated in their sanctuary pews, but Fourth became popularly known as the "rich peoples" church. Fourth Presbyterian counted all branches of the powerhouse McCormick family among its membership, and family matriarch Nettie McCormick set a standard of giving to those less fortunate that became a level of service to the larger community which the church maintains to this day.

  [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Magnificent Mile /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Over the next 40 years Fourth Church ministered to rich and poor alike from their Romanesque-styled home at Rush and Superior Streets. But as the building aged and the neighborhood changed, church elders decided the time had come for another move and found a piece of property near the northern end of Lincoln Parkway in a quiet, residential community. The south half of the block-long site facing Chestnut Street, was vacant, but along Delaware Street a row of townhouses would have to come down, as would the Artizan Brass Company building and an automobile repair garage which faced the Parkway. The building committee hired the two guys many considered to be the country's premiere practitioners of Gothic Revival, and Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue got to work on their final addition to a handsome portfolio of churches the pair had designed since forming their partnership in 1892.

  [Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Although their practice from all outward appearances seemed to be all about copying a 400-year-old British-inspired Gothic tradition, Cram and Goodhue saw themselves as modernists. Their large commercial, educational and ecclesiastical projects were constructed of steel framing and came with all of the latest technological innovations of the time. However the designers found a beauty and purity in the British Gothic model which they believed could be used as creatively in the 20th century as it was in the 16th. Fourth Church's new sanctuary opened to the public on May 10, 1914, which was followed by a week long celebration. In 1920, six years after the church's dedication, a bridge spanning the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue opened to automobile traffic, Pine Street and Lincoln Parkway got a new name, and the quiet residential neighborhood around Fourth Church was changed forever. The spire that had once dominated the landscape was eventually dwarfed by ever and ever taller structures, but the project Cram oversaw after his partner's departure still offers a moment of contemplative Gothic reflection in a sea of cars, buses and pedestrians.

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