Another Stade Church, but not just another Stade church

Midcentury architect Charles Stade didn’t often break from his standard A-frame mold, but he certainly could do so when the budget and program called for it. This was certainly the case with St. John’s Lutheran Church (W. Pratt, just east of Cicero), where Stade’s typical A-frame model was discarded in favor of soaring vertical walls that frame a relatively narrow space.

St. John’s is one of those pesky buildings that, today, is so obscured by trees and greenery that it’s hard to get a photograph of the entire building. This is about the best I could do:

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Inside, it’s all vertical, though some basic Stade elements remain, such as an altered rendition of Stade’s random cathedral glass, and those magnificent laminate wood beams.

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As usual, Stade eschews most traditional ornament, but still decorates the space, using a celestial cosmos of floating globe lamps. The space is impressive by itself, but it’s the globe lamps that really put it over the top, transforming it into a superb artistic work and also a fine representative building of its era.

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Stade didn’t do a lot of buildings entirely in brick, but here he shows a clear appreciation for the medium. Grids and rows of bricks project or recess, creating patterns in the wall. He uses randomly placed clinker bricks as wall decoration both inside and out. They give a human quality to these otherwise towering brick walls.

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Even the cornerstone reflects the tall, boxy nature of the building.

Art within the church favors a sort of floating, variable-size font:

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The Chicago Tribune of the era, which frequently profiled new Modern-style churches, is strangely silent about this one; thus I have no idea who the artist was.

Outside, a small projecting chapel wing reaches out to the west, at right angles to the main building; together, they form a small plaza space.

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You might be shocked to find this view on the south-facing alley side of the chapel:

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Turns out, Stade’s design simply engulfed the 1953 chapel that was already on the site. What remains of the chapel’s original skin appears to be a done timid, watery Gothic style; it was reskinned to work with Stade’s vision. It doesn’t seem like much of a loss, considering what we got in return.

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Charles E. Stade, Architect

He’s most famous for his magnificent chapel at Valpairaso University, south of Chicago. But Park Ridge architect Charles Stade designed dozens (reportedly hundreds) of churches, across Chicagoland and across America, from the early 1950s until his retirement in 1981. He worked with many denominations, but his own Lutheran faith gave him the largest number of commissions.

It’s not hard to spot a Stade church: just look for the big A-frame building with a random checkerboard of colored glass squares, with gill-like stacks of sloping wood mullions. It’s a style that was heavily influenced by the angular styles of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his Unitarian Meetinghouse in Madison, WI.

Charles E. Stade church
Winnetka Presbyterian Church – Willow Road, Winnetka, IL

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Immanuel Lutheran Church – Des Plaines, IL

St. Timothy Lutheran
St. Timothy Lutheran Church – w. of Logan Square, Chicago

Hillside Free Methodits
Hillside Free Methodist Church – Evanston, IL

Trinity Lutheran
Trinity Lutheran Church – Lombard (York Center), IL

Ashlar-cut gray stone end walls are also pretty diagnostic of Stade’s stock style.

St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran
St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church – SW Chicago

Elston United Methodist
Elston United Methodist Church – NW Chicago

Stade was a consumate Modernst. He designed simple, elegant, geometric buildings, largely bereft of ornament, that relied on the magic of light and space to bring them to life. Also in keeping with the Modernist ethos, he was not at all ashamed to recycle ideas for building designs, to the extent that many of his smaller churches are totally interchangeable.

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Trinity Lutheran – Lombard

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Elston United Methodist

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Faith Lutheran Church – NW Chicago

Immanuel Lutheran Church
Immanuel Lutheran, Des Plaines

And yet, none of them are clones. Each is uniquely designed. Each contains an original floor plan, each has unique glass patterns, each has custom-designed liturgical furnishings.

Stade loved his angles. Some of the most hypnotic moments in his designs are where angles repeat and pile on one another.

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And he loved his grids. Nearly every Stade church has a wall that’s a grid of randomly sized openings in different colors.

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Bethel United Church of Christ – Elmhurst, IL

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Stade even designed doors in this style, sometimes setting the handles in a deeply recessed grid of thin wood elements. There’s definitely something memorable about reaching your hand into that grid to grasp and pull the handle.

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A fourth Stade element is simple concrete sculpture plaques, displaying symbols of the church along with short quotations.

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And a final Stade signature is the cornerstone – usually rendered in limestone, with a simple, raised sans-serif font announcing the year of construction and nothing else.

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One can see him settling into his trademark style with the 1953 St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, an early work up on Northwest Highway which already contains several of the signature elements. St. Andrews has red brick, a solid end wall, and boxed-out stained glass windows with faceted glass, all of which mark it as unique from the stock style that Stade would be mass-producing in by 1958.

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Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, IL

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Stade was one of the second-generation Modernists, bringing contemporary design to the masses, making good, serviceable buildings that were affordable, handsome, clean and elegant – ideal for the suburban frontier. His work was not necessarily scrutinized by the glossy high-end magazines, but it was certainly worthy of it.

Valparaiso Chapel

The exterior

From the flat lands of the exurban town of Valparaiso, Indiana, the Chapel of the Resurrection rises like a Gothic cathedral, soaring above its everyday surroundings. And a cathedral it is, in spirit if not fact.

The interior

Begun in 1956, the chapel is the masterwork of prolific Modernist Charles E. Stade (1923-1993). Stade’s practice was based in Park Ridge, Illinois, and produced hundreds of churches throughout Chicagoland and across the country. Locally, his numerous A-frame churches are easy to identify by their window walls of random colored cathedral glass; Immanuel Lutheran in Des Plaines is typical: modest but attractive, modern without extravegance.

But in Valparaiso University, Stade found a client with the funding to match his full lofty potential.

Stained glass wall

The chapel’s nave is the centerpiece, a towering cylinder of glass and light, rising nearly 100 feet to the top of its jagged roofline. Stained glass figures and patterns descend from the top and disappear below the floor. Their Cubist and Deco influences are echoed in the decoration of the altar table, as well as a mural near the chapel’s west entrance. Known as the Munderloh Windows, the glass was designed by Peter Dohmen Studios of Minnesota, who presumably designed the matching altar decoration and an exterior mural as well.

Altar and glass

Chapl of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

Chapl of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

Chapl of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

Beautiful, elegant, simple details suffuse the interior. The pulpit floats next to a curved wall of stone. Free-floating stone slabs form the steps leading up to it. Towering polished brass chandoliers decend from the ceiling. And the organ screen is a delicate screen of tracery in wood.

Midcentury confection

Chapl of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

Chapl of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University

The nave and chancel are the main attractions, of course, but there’s more as well. Below the chancel, a far smaller chapel coontains similar details on a more intimate scale.

Ground floor chapel

At the building’s west end, a circular stairwell doubles as a symbolic baptistry, with delicate sculpture pouring down toward a fountain at the bottom.

Stairwell

Valparaiso is a surprisingly short drive from Chicago, an hour or less. I did not get the chance to explore the rest of the town, but this building alone made the detour well worth the while.

The interior

Links:

  • Official web site
  • 2006 newspaper article about the chapel