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First Presbyterian Church, Corvallis, OR

January 25, 2015

ORcorvallisPres

Anyone who thinks that architectural history is easy, come sit next to me. The accurate attribution of specific buildings often drives me to distraction, if not drink.

First Presbyterian Church in Corvallis, Oregon is attributed to architect John V. Bennes [1867-1943]. A striking variant of the Akron-Auditorium plan—I have not seen the interior, so cannot say with any assurance how the Sunday School spaces are organized—its silhouette is practically interchangeable with other Oregon churches: in Albany, Oregon City and Portland (twice!). Yet some of these other churches are attributed to architect Willard F. Tobey, without a hint of collaboration by any other designer. Tobey was a partner in Bennes, Hendricks & Tobey, and the roles played by the partners in a firm are notoriously difficult to establish. In this case, the conflict seems to be between the Oregon Encyclopedia and the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps they should duke it out.

As if matters required more complication, the website for Atkinson Memorial Unitarian-Universalist Church (formerly First Congregational Society) includes a lengthy congregational history which credits six Oregon churches and one in Washington State to Tobey:

  • Sunnyside Congregational (Staub Memorial, etc.), Portland (1909)
  • First Presbyterian, Corvallis (1909)
  • First Presbyterian, Albany (1911)
  • First Presbyterian (now Emanuel Baptist), Vancouver, WA (1912)
  • First Evangelical & Reformed (now Grace Bible), Portland (1912)
  • First Presbyterian, Lebanon (1913)
  • First Congregational, Forest Grove (1919)

So now it’s back to the database and reconsideration.

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