Everything in Chicago is stretched–even churches. My eye was caught by this building as I looked to cross a street in Chicago and saw the steeple on top of this skyscraper a couple blocks down. I was very confused at first, trying to figure out why an office building had a steeple on top of it. Then I saw the name of the church, First United Methodist Church, carved into the side of the building. The only other indication on the exterior visible from a distance that suggested the religious use of the interior was the doorway.
This building is also known as the Chicago Temple. The congregation was founded in 1831 and has been worshiping at this site since 1838. The current building was built in 1924 and has 23 floors.
One of my souvenirs from Chicago was the book “City of the Century” by Donald L. Miller, which describes the history of Chicago up to the 1893 World’s Fair. So it doesn’t talk about the building of this church building, but it does describe the building of the Auditorium–Chicago’s multipurpose Opera House. The book notes “there was no government support of the arts in the United States, so the Auditorium would have to pay for itself” (361). As a result the theater was enclosed in a office/hotel complex.
It seemed like there might have been similar thinking in the design of this church building–as real estate was expensive downtown, covering the church with office space could help it afford its location. However, if that is why the building is mixed-use, it was not inspired by the Auditorium, which was built in the late 1880s. According the history page of the church’s website, there has been a multipurpose church building on this site since 1858. The first one was a 4-story structure with stores and businesses on the first two floors and the church above.
The new building has a two-story sanctuary on the first floor. Accounts differ as to how many this can hold (500, 1000, 1200 people). The second floor has another smaller sanctuary. Floors three and four hold the accessory rooms–classrooms, meeting rooms, etc. The parson’s house is also located in the building. The remaining floors are office space. The crowning jewel, is a small chapel underneath the steeple.
I regret that I did not take the time to stop and investigate whether I could explore the inside of the building. As I was focused on a specific task when I came upon the building, I did not even think about trying to see inside. If you are interested, I found a YouTube video that shows what I take to be the first floor sanctuary and the small chapel under the steeple.