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Presbyterian Church, Ness City, KS

May 15, 2014

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Akron-Auditorium churches exist everywhere. Let me say that again: everywhere.

There are but two states in which I have not yet located an example: Vermont and Nevada. Vermont may have none because its development was already substantially complete and its rhythm of  recycling/replacement out of synch with the A-A era, 1880–1920. Nevada was just to new. Indeed, I wrote a letter of inquiry to all fifty state historic preservation officers, and the Nevada SHPO replied that she simply had no idea what I was talking about. That being said, they are not only everywhere (else) but also in an astounding variety of architectural styles and sizes. Consider this modest Presbyterian church in Ness City, Kansas.

A prototype for the L-shaped plan with equal wings had been promoted by the Methodists in the 1880s and was built by the dozens, if not hundreds, throughout the Midwest and Great Plains. I happen to live in North Dakota and can attest that there were easily a dozen here by 1920. Ness City’s design may not have been repeated (though I will not be surprised to find that it was) but it is a variation of that modest type in which the sanctuary/auditorium occupies one wing and the room for religious education the other—probably with a folding door to allow overflow seating or to allow the children to join their parents without moving. It could also, of course, have served as a social hall for receptions, etc. The corner entry gives equal access to each wing. Louis I. Kahn could not have given better expression to the “servant” and “served” components of this simple program.

With Ness City at one end of the spectrum of size, consider the complexity of First Baptist Church, Worcester, MA, by architects Gillespie & Carroll:

baptistworcester

Here is a full-blown instance of the “Institutional Church” fully equipped to handle all the pressures that both rapid urbanization and immigration required. These two examples may seem either odd or extreme, but I see them as opposite poles of the broad spectrum required by the Social Gospel.

 

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