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Methodist Episcopal Church, Salem, MA

June 13, 2017

An early and long-lived contributor to the A-A phenomenon was Lawrence B. Valk, an architect practicing in Brooklyn, NY, long before the union of the five boroughs. Valk promoted a signature plan variant with “cloistered” entries running parallel with the wing for religious education and the sanctuary at the back of that sequence. One of those “cloisters” or covered passages can be seen here at Wesley UMC in Salem, Massachusetts, a Valk design from about 1888. The congregation’s website describes the interior in an 1889 news item at the time of dedication:

On the floor of the church proper there is, first the vestibule, three classrooms, opening into the varsity [vestry?], while the latter is connected with the auditorium by immense sliding doors, six in number, and 28 feet in height. The arrangement of classrooms deserves special mention. There are four of them, two being in the second story, and connected by balconies, hanging over the vestry. But when the sliding sashes of the classrooms are pushed back, and the vestry sliding folded doors all are open to the church proper. The auditorium is built theater-like with sloping floor, and circular seats, and a rather unique arrangement of aisle. It will seat about 630 people. The rostrum is 18 by 20 feet with a half circle space 5 feet wide for the alter rail. The Pastors room and choir room are located to the right and left of the rostrum. [That third sentence may be a faulty transcription.]

I have seen other examples of this plan in upstate New York and as far west as Colorado. For comparison, here is First Baptist church in colorado Springs:

Valk’s major architectural competition may have been G. W. Kramer, who opened his own New York office about 1900. Eventually he and his son Arthur Valk and their practiced gradually shifted to Southern California. Architectural historian Richard Cawthon has written about the firm’s church work.  [“Some churches and others buildings designed by Lawrence B. Valk (1838-1924) (or L.B. Valk & Son, or Valk & Saeltzer), of Brooklyn, New York.” June 15, 2006.]

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