A rare bird: the Art Deco church

One day last summer I was looking at a map of the city, looking for places I hadn’t been.  I realized I couldn’t remember ever venturing west on Irving Park, so, off I went.

I saw lots of neat stuff, including beautiful Portage Park, but the king find was St. Pascal’s Church, a 1930 Catholic structure which was a bit of a jackpot for me.

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There is a paucity of Art Deco churches in general. I know of two in St. Louis, and perhaps half a dozen in Chicago, and I am still looking for one that carries the style all the way into the interior. St. Pascal’s is no exception; despite all those geometric details on the outside, the inside is pure Mission Style.

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St. Pascal’s is a close stylistic relative of St. Joseph’s, the church in Wilmette that I covered previously. Both are tall and massive, with a shallow carved entry cove, bearing a massive cross with a rose window behind it.

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Other examples:

St. Ferdinand, 5900 W. Barry Avenue, out west near Belmont Avenue, filters Art Deco through a 1950s Midcentury prism:
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Designed by Barry & Kay in 1955, this building is an amazingly simple collection of powerful geometric forms, overlapping and rising. Construction began in 1956 and the building was dedicated in 1959. It was noted for being air conditioned, and for an underground tunnel connecting it to the rectory (no doubt a cherished feature in the dead of winter.)

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Then, there is Hyde Park’s St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church – 1929, Barry Byrne, architect.

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St. Thomas is one of the city’s most outlandish churches, mishmash of styles and influences that defies exact classification. I mention it here in conjunction with Art Deco churches – but it could just as easily stand alongside Byzantine or Spanish Baroque Revival.

Inside, it’s surprisingly restrained – the closest thing I’ve yet seen to an Art Deco styled religious interior.

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Outside, brick and terra cotta run wildly amuck.

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And finally, Andrew Rebori’s spectacular Madonna Della Strada chapel at Loyola University, opened in 1938,  is the most unambiguously Art Deco example – perhaps the only one, in fact.

Madonna della Strada Chapel

The Madonna della Strada (“Our Lady of the Wayside”) chapel was the dream and brainchild of Father James P. Mertz, who wanted a chapel honoring the patroness of travelers – such as young college students far from home. Father Mertz raised the money to fund the construction of the building’s shell, then continued the work of gathering materials to fit out the interior for another decade.

Loyola University Chicago

Compared to the radically sculpted exterior, the interior seems a bit tame, particularly the traditional-styled artwork and stained glass –  but it’s still sumptuous in materials, with curved forms that echo the Art Deco style, and full of surprising little details. Dozens of marbles from around the world give the interior a lavish finish.

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When the chapel was built, the assumption was that Lake Shore Drive would soon be extended further northward. As a result, the “front” faces the lake, whose waters are only a few feet away.

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9 thoughts on “A rare bird: the Art Deco church

  1. The Chicago Art Deco Society just had a nice piece in their magazine about St. Thomas – apparently the architect had a falling out with the church and hence, the interior isn’t really by him at all. Interestingly, he innovations were used in later churches, though I can’t remember if the architect himself did or simply influenced them.

  2. You should check out St. Genevieve 4835 W. Altgeld or its not-quite-there cousin Queen of Angels 2330 W. Sunnyside.

    The Ceremony

  3. The Chapel at North Park Village (the old sanitarium at Pulaski & Peterson) has a remarkable 1930’s interior. It’s all in shades of yellow, with wonderful geometrical light fixtures along the sides. I only got one good photo before some officious person sicced the janitor on me without warning.
    northparkchapel

  4. Pingback: Chicago Mid-Century: St. Thomas More Catholic Church | A Chicago Sojourn

  5. There are so many other great examples in nearby suburbs and in city St. Peters in Loop and St. Philip Neri on Southside have many art deco features, both are very large buildings too.

  6. Pingback: Art Deco Architecture – artdecorebuilt

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