Thursday, May 27, 2010

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:



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.



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.



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.


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

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




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.


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


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.

Monday, May 24, 2010

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

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.

Trinity Lutheran - Lombard

Elston United Methodist

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.


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







Bethel United Church of Christ - Elmhurst, IL


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.





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





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.




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.

Saint Andrew's Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, IL


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.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Double Deco

Pure coincidence let me find out about the fantastic Art Deco-facaded building at 6420-6424 N. Western Avenue: the Rogers Park Historical Society was headquartered there in the 1990s, and thus mention the building in their online history.

It was designed by William C. Presto, an associate of Louis Sullivan - the same guy who called in Sullivan to do the Krause Music Store facade, the final work of Sullivan's career. The Western Ave. building was home to Cutsler's Cafe in 1931; beyond that, there's not much about it in the Tribune archives, my usual research stop. It's a beauty, though, with a design vocabulary that brings to mind vaguely Egyptian imagery but is a unique creation.



Well, I thought it was unique, anyway... till I had occasion to venture through the small town of Dekalb, IL, where the exact same design style appears on a small commercial facade, the Wedberg Building. Presto must have figured nobody would notice if he recycled a design in a small town a hundred miles away!

DeKalb main street

Of course, the Internet isn't very forthcoming about this one, either. Best guess is it was built for an Albert T. Wedberg (his 31-year-old wife's name appears on the 1930 census), who may have been a photographer (he's credited with a photograph of the town from the same time period).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sullivanesque ornament

Louis Sullivan was a titanic force in American architecture, influencing an entire generation of designers directly and indirectly. Among his many accomplishments was an ornamental style so unique and distinctive that it spawned an entire genre of imitative mass-produced catalog ornament. These terra cotta pieces show up on buildings all across Chicagoland.

Here's one particularly common design:

Kedzie & California

Montrose Avenue


Rogers Park

But there were many others.

Milwaukee Avenue


S. Michigan Avenue


Belmont Avenue

Lincoln Avenue

They appear again and again on Chicago commercial buildings, adding a distinctly local note to otherwise forgettable architecture. They rather contradict Sullivan's own design philosophy, which considered building and ornament to be one unified, interrelated work of art, each custom-designed to fit the other and to serve the whole. These guys, by contrast, were just picking stuff out of a catalog. But hey, it's impressive stuff!

The term Sullivanesque comes from the book of the same name, which catalogs not only these shallow-but-pretty imitators, but also a whole school of design based directly on Sullivan's design style.

If you're not convinced by the organic-unifed-work-of-art argument, there's a place where you can compare a Sullivanesque building with an actual Sullivan design, in Lincoln Square. Right by the neighborhood's central plaza stands a fairly impressive bit of Sullivanesque, one of the few to actually make some attempt at integrating ornament and design.



But just a block south, the last built design of Sullivan's life - the Krause Music Store facade - blows its imitators completely off the map. There's simply no comparison.

Krause Music Store

Krause Music Store detail

Krause Music Store detail

Krause Music Store detail