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First Methodist Episcopal Church, Las Vegas, NM

June 15, 2014


One of the really problematic issues of the Akron-Auditorium study has been the A-A phrase itself. If you had mentioned it in the 1890s, churchmen and women of various Protestant persuasions would have understood it in more or less the same way: a) an auditorium sanctuary (i.e., one with a radial organization of concentric seating focused on the pulpit, b) an adjacent Sunday School with a similar radial arrangement of small meeting alcoves around a larger central space for group meetings (the “Akron” part of the equation), and c) a large movable partition allowing these two areas to be joined. Over the last 100-plus years, however, the word “auditorium” has been dropped and the “Akron” reference has shifted from Sunday School to sanctuary. Very few use it in the original intention.

As this shift has introduced much ambiguity in meaning, I’ve wondered whether it was a waste of time to bring everyone back into agreement. So, I decided to undertake a survey and wrote a very simple letter-questionnaire to the fifty State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) across the U.S. I simply asked 1) What does the phrase “Akron Plan” mean to you; 2) are there any in your state jurisdiction; and 3) can you share those examples to improve our database? The responses were interesting in both distribution and content.

First, I had assumed that some states would simply not reply. New York, for example, seemed such a bureaucracy that my inquiry would slip into the nearest waste receptacle. What a surprise when the NY SHPO replied in the affirmative, with a clear understanding of the type and several examples—and a large measure of enthusiasm and good will for my efforts. One state that did not respond was my own, North Dakota.

Of the thirty or so that replied, Nevada’s was wonderfully frank: the Nevada SHPO had no idea what I was talking about and could not, therefore, offer any examples within her domain. This made a certain amount of sense, because Nevada settled so late in the A-A phenomenon (essentially 1880-1920) that churches of its type may never have been built there. At least I was willing to accept that interpretation until this evening, when an A-A church turned up in, of all places, Las Vegas. I am certain this building is long gone, but this card at least enables me to check off one of two states not represented in the database (Nevada and Vermont).

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