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Taxonomy

The taxonomy of Akron-Auditorium churches has emerged from the sheer bulk of examples in the database. Accumulate a large enough selection — drawn largely from the common penny postcard — and patterns emerge. Not only have eighteen types been drawn from the 4000+ examples we’ve accumulated (a few of which are possible but highly unlikely), there are several sub-types and some that can be characterized with acronyms, catch-phrases we use in ongoing discussions.

The database has also helped to identify clusters of churches designed by the same architect, based on the near identicality. But other observations are equally interesting for no particular reason whatsoever. Consider these two Iowa churches in Bedford and Alta as simple exercises in massing, exterior forms that often represent similarities in interior arrangement. The book-matched facades; the corner entry tower as fulcrum; the auxiliary entries at the outside corners — I doubt these were designed by the same architect, but they might as well have been. Squint your eyes and you’ll see what I mean.

In a casual conversation with an undergraduate student yesterday afternoon, I found myself waxing ecstatic about the joys of architectural research and probably spent fifteen minutes rhapsodizing about these two ungainly examples. That may be the single most interesting aspect of such a long term study: an appreciation for architecture having practically nothing to do with “pretty”. Akron-Auditorium churches are, by and large, homely. But it has been my contention that they represent a uniquely American contribution to the history of religious building types, these ungainly, often clumsy designs represent the very best of American innovation. I’m proud to ahve invested twenty years of my academic life trying to understand them.

M. E. Church, Kingston, NY (1.2)

The project’s roving reporter Richard Kenyon has sent considerable information from his recent trips to and from the West Coast adding several new examples to the database and improving what we knew of some others. Among them (from a more recent local field trip) is St James UMC at Pearl and Fair streets in Kingston, NY.

St James is an iconic example of the considerable body of work by architect G. W. Kramer—whose obituary claimed he had designed more than two thousand churches, a good many of them for Methodists. Richard was fortunate to be allowed inside by church staff who are clearly proud of their building AND the high level of its maintenance. Congregational attitudes toward the A-A tend to be polar opposites: the buildings are either loved or loathed. I’d say the former, in this case.

Other than having painted out what might have been a more characteristic late Victorian color scheme (with stenciling in murky shades of olive, pumpkin and mauve), the building’s physical condition is remarkable, especially for a structure older that one hundred years. We call you attention to three things: 1) the unusual serpentine green building stone, 2) the movable partition in the auditorium, which is still operable, and 3) a fully intact Akron Sunday school in the less common rectangular configuration.

 

Broadway Tabernacle, New York, NY

Barney & Chapman designed the Broadway Tabernacle in NYC in 1905, a second church in the congregation’s move uptown. The previous building was a renowned mega-auditorium for a charismatic preacher who knew how to pack ’em in. The religious education component here may have been so large that the Akron Plan was inadequate. Though many of the building’s details have been published, I have never seen plans to answer that question.

 

Bethesda Baptist Church, Chicago, IL

Inner-city churches in large cities were often forced to stack their auditorium and Sunday school facilities. So the best I could hope for here is an F-1 or F-2. But in those fast changing neighborhoods, buildings like Bethesda Baptist were abandoned or upgraded soon after their construction — with little documentation left behind to satisfy my curiosity.

Several in Canton, OH: the way things work

The complexity of church fracture and spin-off in Canton, Ohio is mystifying. Serendipity led me to a bad image of what purports to be Trinity Reformed Church in Canton, a building giving every indication of having been the design of J. C. Fulton in Uniontown, PA; Fulton’s Neo-Classical formality often masks a rather dynamic interior with full-blown A-A organization, usually not as symmetrical as the exterior. Searching for information and other images of Trinity has led me a merry chase, productive in every way other than my intention.

Trinity Reformed Church, Canton, OH / J. C. Fulton, architect (attributed)

And that image led to a second, better one:

Trinity Reformed Church, Canton, OH / J. C. Fulton, architect (attributed)

In the meantime, however, other Canton churches showed up, including First Christian church, one of the first in the database those many years ago. It may ahve been among the first “institutional” churches we encountered:

First Christian Church, Canton, OH / architect unknown but circa 1903

Then these images of First Reformed Church showed up just to add fuel to the fire:

First Reformed Church, Canton, OH / date and architect not yet known

First Reformed Church, Canton, OH / interior view; date and architect not yet known

What is intriguing about these two views is confirmation of a not-infrequent process of adaptive renovation: here a very tradition mid-19th century Gothic Revival church has been updated some time much later in the century with an Akron Plan Sunday school, attached to the left side of the sanctuary. I also wonder if the pews weren’t reoriented at that time, shifting from a straight-line longitudinal plan to the more familiar radial configuration expected in the A-A. First Reformed has gone through a dizzying list of identification and is now known as the First Church of the Resurrection.

An on-line history of one or the other of these Reformed congregations involved so many differences of doctrine and going-of-separate-ways that I gave up trying to follow both name changes and building histories, for the time being.

One additional mystery appeared on google.maps, however, which will occupy more of my time this afternoon: a church labelled Christ the King Apostolic Church, which would seem to be the new occupant of a church built for another congregation.

Christ the King Apostolic Church, Canton, OH / aerial view (oblique)

Christ the King Apostolic Church, Canton, OH / aerial view

Surely an A-A  plan lurks within.

Fifteen in Texas

Today’s on-line search brought me to a bonanza of photographic images of churches in Texas. Wading through just the Methodist examples (1,292 of them), I came up with fifteen that show a good deal of promise. A couple are already in the database, but most are new—to me, at least. Until I can investigate each of them, here is the lot:

M.E. Church , Crowell, TX

Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Dallas, TX

Methodist Episcopal Church, Eddy, TX

Wesley Tabernacle M. E. Church, Galveston, TX

M. E. Church, Hereford, TX

M. E. Church, Hereford, TX

McKenzie M. E. Church, Honey Grove, TX

M. E. Church, Paducah, TX

Congregational Church, Palestine, TX

M. E. Church, Palestine, TX

M. E. Church (mislabelled Baptist), Palestine, TX

M. E. Church, Palestine, TX

M. E. Church, Robstown, TX

M. E. Church, Stamford, TX

Austin Avenue M. E. Church, Waco, TX

Austin Avenue M. E. Church, Waco, TX

M. E. Church, Alpine, TX

M. E. Church, Austin, TX

M. E. Church, Childress, TX

M. E. Church, Crowell, TX

Methodist Episcopal Church, Clarion, PA

The book-matched street facades of Clarion, Pennsylvania’s UMC are a sure sign of a diagonal-plan auditorium. The Sunday school extension on the right is balanced by an attached minister’s residence on the left. On-line interior photographs have been difficult to find.