I still remember the first time I saw Immaculate Conception Church (1963, 7211 W. Talcott Avenue.) We were hurrying out to O’Hare, southbound on Harlem to pick up the Interstate. Despite my attention being divided by dodging through traffic, my jaw dropped when I saw its looming cylinder of unbroken stained glass.
It was immediately obvious that this building had a completely over-the-top case of Midcentury madness. It was More MidCentury Than Thou.
Some months later, I found time for a closer inspection. The details confirmed my original impressions. Top to bottom, this building pulled no punches. It used every MidCentury trick in the book.
Today, I finally got to go inside the building. Despite the grand setup, I was still blown away by the interior. The level of detail on the outside pales before the onslaught that awaits within.
One enters the sanctuary by passing through the glass cylinder, and it is of course top-to-bottom stained glass, waves of bright color pouring in on arriving worshipers.
The sanctuary itself is spatially plain, open and airy, but festooned with decoration and ornament.
Overhead, a series of false skylights filled with stained glass designs bring colored light in from above. More of the stained glass designs pour down the towering windows.
One-inch glazed tile coats the columns, the walls, and the floor of the altar space. The pastor commented that he finds it a bit like being in a swimming pool. Be that as it may, I’ve never seen a swimming pool with polished-gold tile patterns!
Remember those colored tiles on the outside? They aren’t just for decoration:
If they look familiar, they should: colored glass block like this is a staple of the Chicago Midcentury style. So is the combo of cream-colored brick with baby blue highlighting patterns. Not only is Immaculate Conception a deliriously exuberant piece of Modernism, it’s also a localized design, in tune with the regional 1960s vernacular.
The stained glass designs, by Chicago’s Michaudel Stained Glass Studio, are modern in their way. They lack the subtleties of an Emil Frei design, but the abstract patterns of flowing color, the drifting text, and the stylized figures all set the designs firmly apart from their Gothic and Renaissance antecedents. There is a cartoon-like punchiness to the designs; the windows are big and bold, loud and clear.
Oh, and I guess I shouldn’t have said that nuclear explosions aren’t “standard church fare“, because, here you go!
I’m still reeling from the visit. I could go again and again. In fact, if my DSLR camera ever gets out of the shop, I almost certainly will.