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Grand Crossing Methodist Episcopal Church, Chicago, IL

June 29, 2014

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My awareness of the Akron-Auditorium phenomenon came from Fred Shellabarger, an architect who taught architectural history and design at the University of Oklahoma in the 1960s. Besides being a great teacher and a designer in the Wrightian tradition, Fred was also an Episcopalian who wasn’t shy of expressing his disdain for denominations outside the liturgical tradition; in that regard he was a traditionalist. So, any mention of Christian Science was habitually followed with the parenthetic observation “neither Christian nor scientific.” I can’t recall exactly what he said about the Akron Plan but it can’t have been good; I was left with the feeling that he found their hybrid polymorphic plans somehow embarrassing. It was a different time and political correctness hadn’t arrived.

So Chicago’s Grand Crossing Methodist Episcopal Church (now Ingleside-Whitfield UMC) would have been well below Fred’s radar and probably a church he’d have dismissed. I learned a great deal from Shell, including a design sense that enables me to disagree with him—posthumously—and say that I find this an interesting building.

I could speculate about the interior arrangement but for the time being I’ll make another observation: its massing occurs in a very characteristic rhythm of A-B-a-b, where the A’s are entry-towers and the B’s are the masses representing interior space (i.e., auditorium and Sunday School). I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Incidentally, the Grand Crossing is one of Chicago’s seventy-seven designated neighborhoods. It takes its name from a notorious conflict between two major rail lines whose rights-of-way crossed in this vicinity. The conflict was eventually resolved with a grade crossing that minimized the potential for collision.

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See what I mean about the potential for disaster?

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