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Edgewater Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL

November 10, 2015


Here is one of the very rare Akron-Auditorium churches designed by an architect of the Prairie School. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park is one of them (believe it or not, it’s an F-1 in my taxonomy); Purcell & Elmslie’s unsuccessful design for St Paul’s Methodist Episcopal in Cedar Rapids is another. Many of the churches designed by James E. Flanders in Texas and Oklahoma also qualify, and there are a couple in Kansas by someone whose name I don’t recall at the moment. And then there was George Maher.

George Washington Maher (1864-1926) was a near contemporary of FLlW (only three years older), but he died in 1926 by his own hand and did not live long enough to craft a place for himself in architectural history. Maher and Frank Lloyd Wright had worked side-by-side in the Chicago office of J. Lyman Silsbee, with whom Maher’s work has more connection. Later they both officed at Steinway Hall and may have exchanged pleasantries in the elevator. If that sounds like half-hearted praise, I apologize, because G. W.’s career deserves a monograph of its own.

Maher’s “Motif-Rhythm Theory” gave each of his buildings (mostly houses) a unity through reliance on just one primary design motif—much like the hollyhock in Wright’s house of that name. But Maher’s houses were essentially Neo-Classical in form and spatial organization, lacking the volumetric ambiguity of Wright’s mature Prairie School work [perhaps his unwillingness/inability to merge space accounts for the F-1 choice]. And his ornament is more akin to the Art Nouveau.

GWM mantle

To my recollection, Maher designed only one church, for the Edgewater Presbyterian congregation just a block off busy Sheridan Road, though with very little documentation. It was gone and replaced by high-rise apartments when I ventured that far north (I was still in high school) and hadn’t become familiar with more than a handful of GWM’s buildings. Until I found this postcard, I had only two even less satisfactory images to share. If anything else develops, you’ll be the first to know.

UPDATE (29.10.16): The Ryerson Library at the AIC has lately added a number of Maher illustrations to its on-line database. This plan comes from the Inland Architect and shows the F-1 configuration — though the Sunday School isn’t divided into radial break-out spaces in this drawing:

ILchicagoEdgePres.jpeg has come to my service once again, providing (at my expense, I should add) another postcard view, also by C. R. Childs, and quite likely taken on the same day as the one above. It overexposure or subsequent fading obscures the octagonal roof even more than the other card but shows the side elevation to better advantage:


The building disappeared decades ago but once stood on the corner of Kenmore and Bryn Mawr avenues in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. I think the arched entry and stairs faced south onto Bryn Mawr.

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