St. Priscilla Catholic Church

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It’s nothing mind-blowing from the outside, but if you know how to read your MidCentury vocabulary, you can tell there’s going to be great things inside. St. Priscilla Church (6949 W. Addison, 1957) does not disappoint.

Chapel hallway

The entry hall is a long, narrow rectangular space, which extends beyond the main body of the building to form the baptistry, demarcated only by gates. This thin structure has walls of stained glass on both sides, with bold, flowing abstract designs that alternate large areas of clear glass with color.

Stained glass detail

The sanctuary is a large space, with high flat ceilings and walls adorned only by flecks of light (an approach used in St. Louis at St. Catherine of Sienna church, among others.)

Sanctuary

Side wall

Below, the stained glass windows continue the same sweeping wave-like forms seen in the chapel.

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And the motif culminates in the rear window, where Saint Priscilla herself presides over the sanctuary.

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Behind the altar, a massive metal screen rises up to a round skylight.

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The sanctuary can be a rather moody place, depending on the time of day and how many lights are left on. But it is always beautiful.

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The siting of the church lends it additional presence – it sits at the head of the T-shaped intersection of Addison and Sayre.

From the north

A school and newly completed convent already stood on the site in 1956, when Rev. Aloysius Hinterberger led the drive for a new building. Fund raising for the church building began based on a budget of $750,000 (later upped to $900,000). The new building was constructed by Charles B. Johnson & Sons, the general contractor. The new structure was dedicated on Christmas Eve, 1957. Among it better known congregants was builder Albert Schorsch, who developed large swaths of northwestern Chicago.

Today St. Priscilla Catholic Church provides Mass in both English and Polish.

  • St. Priscilla Church site
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  • Searching for Architecture in Northbrook

    As a preface to this post, I had written out a fairly long rant about how much I hate suburbs in general, and Northbrook in particular. But my M.O. on this blog is to celebrate, not denigrate, so we’ll skip all that and get straight to the point: even a far-flung exurb like Northbrook has its moments.

    Part 1: 20th Century Northbrook

    Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism – Lake-Cook Road
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    Fitch, Larocca & Carrington Inc., finished 1973 for a congregation dating back to 1954.

    Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Pfingston and Maria Avenue
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    A tiny confection rendered in Brutalist language. The building was designed in 1967 by architect Salvatore Balsamo, and built by members of the congregation over the next two years. It’s still in use by them today. Having designed it to be built primarily by unskilled labor, Balsamo commented in the 1970 Tribune that “the unions and building department did not bother the workers because the project was a house of worship.”

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    CitiBank – Lake-Cook Road
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    A giant square roof hovering over a transparent body below. The roof extends to shelter the drive-through ATMs in one unified swoop. The bank building went up in the mid-1970s as home to First Federal of Chicago.

    The bank is an outparcel of the adjacent Northbrook Court, a development fought tooth and nail by neighboring Deerfield, but opened nevertheless in 1976. The mall was designed by Architectonics, Inc., who also worked with developer Sears on another mall in Joliet.

    Great Lakes Structural Steel
    237 Melvin Drive
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    A plain warehouse with a bold International Style office building up front, built for a company relocating from Skokie. The style has been tweaked a bit, making it a bit more flamboyant than orthodoxy might have allowed – and allowing the original tenant to show off the effectiveness of their signature product. 1969, by the local firm of Alper & Alper.

    Ironically, it’s now home to HDO Productions – a company that provides large event tents.

    AA Service Co. Heating and Cooling – Anthony Trail
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    This shockingly dramatic arch was once an airport hangar for Sky Harbor Airport. Dating from 1929, it was opened to great aplomb in the days when the Northbrook area was far more sparsely settled. An incredibly stylized club house and control center stood to the south on Dundee Road, but did not survive the Great Depression which closed the airport. Abandoned and vandalized, the clubhouse was torn down in 1939 and the field re-opened as a training center, largely for military pilots. After three decades of use as a popular private airport, Sky Harbor closed in 1973 in the face of rising land values, to be replaced by light industrial development.

    The original hangar building was abandoned for a few years but survives to this day, now housing a heating contractor. In an utterly bizarre arrangement, it now has a narrow two-story seafood restaurant tacked on to its side.

    The Courts of Northbrook
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    Opened in 1988, the Courts stand directly west of the shopping mall of nearly the same name. What I like about this place is that it’s such a great model for a suburb. It’s nothing particularly special or overwrought; and yet, it shows how pleasant a neighborhood can be when the right architectural tools are used to control space. This is not some high-falutin’ architect’s theoretical experiment – any developer could come up with this place if they put their head to it.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly for such an enlightened development, this is the work of the Optima Inc. company architect David Hovey.

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    The enclosed porch is an especially nice touch. What a pleasant place to sit and read on a sunny day!

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    360-370 Lake Cook Road

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    Lacking any name, this low, long building hunkers down under its wonderful green metal roof and behind its low brick walls, scowling out at the rushing traffic on Lake-Cook Road. Inside, a pleasant courtyard greets visitors.

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    And wander around a bit, and you’ll find the requisite 1950s ranch houses, still looking fantastic 50 years after they were built.

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    Following on 1950s houses came 1960s churches.

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    And the story doesn’t stop here… next time we’ll look at some more recent additions to the landscape.

    Chicago’s Holy Corner

    From the downtown intersection of Clark and Madison, you’re within a two minute walk of a Catholic church, a Protestant church, and a Jewish synagogue. And all three are well worth the visit.

    First United Methodist Church (The Chicago Temple)

    The Chicago Temple is the tallest church building in the world, and the only skyscraper in Chicago with a religious spire. It’s a 1922 design by architects Holabird & Roche, in a French Gothic style. When it opened in 1924, it was the city’s tallest building.

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    At ground level, the wood-lined main sanctuary is open for most or all of the day; you can wander in just about any time for a look. (Being downtown, that means there’s sometimes a few homeless folks hanging out in the colder months, though the forbidding entrance lobby with its security guard makes it a bit uninviting.)

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    Those stained glass windows are an illusion – there’s no trace of them on the outside of the building, and they remain brightly illuminated day and night.

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    The stained glass is done in a traditional style, but with some contemporary subject matter, including Jesus blessing the skyline of the city and the highrise itself.

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    The sanctuary reaches some impressive heights, particularly when you consider the load of an entire skyscraper is carried above it.

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    But those heights pale compare to those of the Sky Chapel, just below the spire.

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    Long-planned, the chapel wasn’t fitted out until 1952, when a bequest by the widow of the founder of the Walgreens chain made it possible. Despite the changing times, the chapel is fairly conservative in style – though the stained glass continues the theme of bizarre subject matter begun in the sanctuary below.

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    And once again, just in case you forget where you are…

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    City Hall's green roof

    Chicago Loop Synagogue

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    This Midcentury confection is slotted neatly into the street wall. Designed by architects Loebl, Schlossman and Benett in 1957, the Loop Synagogue opened its doors in 1958. The building is adorned by a 1969 sculpture entitled “The Hands of Peace” on the outside, by sculptor Henri Azaz, with stylized hands against a background of Hebrew and English letters spelling out a traditional Jewish prayer.

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    There’s a sort of slow, deliberative elegance to this building. You can almost feel the architects pausing contemplatively, stroking their chins in thought perhaps, before finally selecting these wonderful huge wood door paddles.

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    Beyond those doors lies a simple passageway with offices and other spaces. The main worship space is on the second story.

    The beautiful wall of stained glass was designed by American artist Abraham Rattner and installed in 1960. Based on the “let there be light” Torah passage, it depicts an abstract, metaphysical cosmos flecked with ancient Hebrew symbols.

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    The rest of the space is spare and clean, befitting its Modernist origins.

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    St. Peter’s Church

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    Wedged between two adjoining buildings, St. Peters Catholic Church gives the impression that it was carved out from a solid rock face. Solid, planar walls contrast startlingly with deeply hewn entrances and window openings, creating one of the best facades in the city. Unlike the contemporaneous Queen of Heaven mausoleum, this 1953 church (architects: Vitzhum and Burns) shows a mix of modern and historical influences.

    A three-story high crucafix by Austrian sculptor Arvid Strauss completes this compelling composition.

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    Like the Chicago Temple, the doors of St. Peter’s are always open (again, meaning there’s usually a few homeless guys hanging around, along with a smattering of curious tourists and the usual downtown office workers.) The space inside is vast, befitting the epic facade outside. Seemingly every surface is gleaming polished stone.

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    Deprived of natural light, the designers had to turn to other tricks to give the space a sense of holiness. Illuminated sculpture niches serve in place of stained glass windows, portraying the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

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    The building’s lobby is notable primarily for its wonderfully ornate doors.

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    If you’ve walked past this place, take five minutes to duck inside. It’s well worth the time.

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  • A history of the church from Heavenly City at Google Books.

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  • 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.

    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.

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    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.

    St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church

    It’s been my experience that the Eastern branches and populations of Christianity (Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian, Russian) really don’t care much what the outside of the church looks like – they’re sticking with traditional styles on the inside, no matter how bizarre the resulting contrasts may be.

    And so it is with St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic (1975, architect Zenon Mazurkevych), another one of those churches that seems like an alien spaceship that landed from another world. Even though it is surrounded by MidCentury houses and flats, their conservative style does nothing to prepare you for this rocketship of a building.

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    On the outside, it’s almost entirely concrete and glass. A large central dome is surrounded by a dozen reflective glass tube towers, each structured in tiered concrete and topped with a smaller gold dome, representing Jesus and his disciples. The only ornament consists of small crosses atop each dome.

    Inside, however, it’s a completely different story.

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    Ornate and rich, the traditionally styled artwork is impressive in its complexity, but it simply doesn’t work with the barebones nature of the building. It doesn’t even try.

    There’s no hiding the modern structure of the space, of course, but the iconography sure as heck tries!

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    Turn away from the center, and a few bits of Modern style reveal themselves, undiluted by the traditional artwork. The only contemporary decoration is the lamps in the tower, and they have not been maintained, as many of the globes are broken and missing.

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    It seems like a surprisingly simple space, but in truth that’s a result of the clashing art styles. In a properly decorated building, art and architecture merge into one entity. Here, however, the art exists separately from, and in opposition to, the building that contains it. Neither enhances the other, leaving both feeling incomplete and lacking.

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    It’s a bit baffling why a congregation would choose such a space age building design, then do a complete about-face on the interior. It’s a disappointment, as the exterior is truly mind-blowing. And there are plenty of churches where the artwork would be a beautiful enhancement of the interior volumes – but this is not one of them.

    St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church

    A ride up Martin Luther King Drive

    Last weekend I found myself in Hyde Park on a pleasant morning, with nothing to do but ride my bike back home. I took a leisurely ride up MLK (King Drive? Every town has its own street honoring Dr. King, and they all have their own unique way of abbreviating the name), through the core of Bronzeville, where a multitude of historic architecture waits to impress and overwhelm.

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    D. Harry Hammer House, 3656 S. King Drive, 1885 – William W. Clay

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    It being a Sunday morning, I stood on the sidewalk for a while and listened to Gospel music swelling from within the church at right, the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church. It’s a 1891 brownstone beauty in a Romanesque style, originally the 41st Street Presbyterian Church.

    Metropolitan Community Church

    MLK Drive

    Graystone row houses

    And the hits just keep on coming. House after house and block after block speak to the jaw-dropping wealth that landed here in the 1880s and 1890s.

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    42nd and King Drive

    Though the best parts of the avenue are residential, there are some impressive institutional buildings as well, several converted to churches. The Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, a Kentucky-based firm, occupied a building sporting a neon sign that is rather at odds with the Beaux Arts facade. I have no clue if this building remains in use at all, but it doesn’t look like it.

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    The Sinai Temple at 46th and MLK was begun in 1909 for a Jewish Reform congregation. Today it houses the Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church.

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    And there are some delectable slices of Mid Century Modernism, as well. Liberty Baptist Church has been documented by Lee Bay, though he doesn’t share interior photographs. I wasn’t feeling up to venturing inside, so that remains a future mission.

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    Nearby, Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan occupies a 1960s building that presents a wild facade of folded plates to the street. The bank has neighborhood roots dating back to the 1930s.

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    The South Park Baptist Church leans toward the Streamline Deco end of the Modernism scale. It went up in 1953, to the designs of architect Homer G. Sailor.
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    Further north, the Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church leans a bit more toward the stock side of Midcentury design:
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    The avenue kind of explodes into a nothing-scape north of here, thanks to a lot of big redevelopment products that have brought grassy fields and parking lots to the areas just south of downtown.