Lake Street Church is Evanston’s oldest (designed 1872 by architect Cass Chapman) and, for my money, the most beautiful. It’s Victorian Gothic – tall, narrow windows with pointed arches, and a general sense of verticality. The exterior is a simple affair of plaster (not original; when opened, the building’s brick walls were exposed), with only a few bits of ornament emerging at the corners.
The simplicity without anticipates the elegance within. The sanctuary is a space defined by dark wood and stained glass in the earth-hued range of tones that inspired both the Prairie and Arts and Crafts movements.
The element that most defines the space is the 2nd-level gallery, which wraps nearly the entire space. According to the head usher, it originally wrapped the entire space until a later remodeling (confirmed by a Tribune article from the building’s 1875 opening.)
The head usher shared a couple of other interesting tales. This was the church of Jimmy Carter’s daughter, so the President and his wife would occasionally attend services. This would bring the Secret Service pouring in, of course. Being a community church, most of the congregation was recognizable by face to its ushers. A stranger in the gallery turned out to be one of the agents.
Lake Street Church was originally the First Baptist Society of Evanston, organized in 1858. Today the church is the oldest public building in Evanston, and an officially designated city landmark.
A later addition forms a courtyard space north of the sanctuary, and contains offices and meeting rooms. The stone Gothic design works well enough with the older building, but lacks its powerful and charming Victorian verticality.