Landmark Chicago Church Burns


This website has looked at a number of churches related architecturally to Shadyside Presbyterian.  One such church, an architectural landmark in Chicago, was lost to fire on January 6, 2006.  Pilgrim Baptist Church, an exact contemporary of Shadyside, was originally built as a synagogue, designed by Adler & Sullivan.


Pilgrim Baptist Church (l), Shadyside Presbyterian Church (r)

The similarities run much deeper than round arch openings and coursed, quarry-faced random ashlar.  Both represent a simplification of the basic cube and lantern tower of Trinity Church, Boston.  Louis Sullivan, characteristically, denied the apparent (even obvious) influence of H. H. Richardson on the synagogue design.  The simplification, itself, was a development in Richardson’s late work.  Adler & Sullivan carried it further at Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue than Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge did at Shadyside, and manipulated the basic shapes more radically.

Trinity Church, Boston

At Shadyside, Trinity’s polychrome, turrets, crockets and complex fenestration disappear.  The transepts are retained (the apse was a later addition), but are subordinated to the lantern tower.  The tower, then, defines the church by dominating the proportions.  Such quieting of the architecture was already evident in Richardson’s two famous Chicago buildings, the Marshall Field Warehouse and the Glessner House.

Marshall Field Warehouse

Adler & Sullivan forged much farther ahead than was called for by Shadyside’s architectural program.  The fenestration pattern of the synagogue recalls that of Marshall Field, as does the monumental rectangular cube of the lower building.  The designers squash the lantern into a rectangular prism, suiting the auditorium worship space.  The auditorium is one floor above the street – a feature of the original synagogue that is often used by Baptist congregations (as at Richardson ’s Newton Baptist).  The lantern sits rather awkwardly on the cube, reflecting bold and unusual massing that Sullivan saw during his brief employment by Philadelphia ’s Frank Furness.  Budgetary constraints prevented construction of the lantern in stone as originally designed.

Ornament Detail from Pilgrim Baptist

The loss of this church is not only architectural.  Historically, much development of gospel music took place there.  The song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" was introduced there.  It remained an active spiritual and social force in the community.  (See photo collection) While early reactions are to rebuild on the site, reproduction of the building would be a daunting task.  The exquisite Sullivan ornament inside the church may be prohibitive financially and impractical artistically to restore.  Fortunately, there has been strong initial support.

The incident serves as a cautionary tale to the stewards of landmark buildings.  Several years ago, it was estimated that nearly $3 million was needed to preserve the structure.  The fire may have been started by a torch used for roof repairs.  New York City’s Central Synagogue burned due to a similar cause during renovation work.  Resources were brought to bear there for a complete and faithful renovation.  The loss of Pilgrim Baptist puts a higher premium on preserving the remaining landmarks.