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North Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, OH

December 26, 2013


This project would be nowhere without the understanding that there is a pattern called the Akron-Auditorium plan that links what art history considers a disparate bunch of buildings in different styles and myriad configurations that seem to defy categorization. I hope to make that case in a solid academic way—beyond the paper I read at an SAH conference in Cincinnati, Ohio a number of years ago. My long attention span doesn’t often work in my favor.

Having suggested here that there is a pattern underlying this apparent chaos, I am inevitably drawn to those examples that seem to defy my matrix. North Presbyterian church at 4001 East Superior Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. Designed by Barnum & Coburn and built in 1886-1887, several things about North Presbyterian intrigue me. First its surprising modernity; I frankly have a tough time placing this building in the 1880s. Second, its lack of ecclesiasticality (is that even a word?) is astonishing. One might legitimately drive by this building daily and, except for the signage, never imagine it is a church. School building, perhaps, but church, hardly. You can see why liturgical denominations—Romans, Episcopalians (especially of the “high church” Anglo-Catholic stripe) and most Lutherans avoided it like the proverbial plague. At best it might be a religious school. Yet there it has stood for more than 125 years proclaiming something that I still find refreshing.

North Presbyterian has been on the National Register since 1974. Once a copy of the nomination is in hand, I’ll add a few more words here about the congregation and their architects. In the meantime, here are a couple interiors from the church’s website. See what I mean?


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