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Saint Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church

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1910–1914, Louis H. Sullivan. 1340 3rd Ave. S.E.
  • Saint Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church (David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim)

The history of the design of the church, and the resulting building, represented a major disappointment for Sullivan and ultimately for the congregation of the church. In 1910 a competition limited to twelve architects was held. The two designs that most attracted the attention of the church's building committee were those submitted by Louis H. Sullivan and by Purcell, Feick and Elmslie. The committee finally selected Sullivan's design, and he was commissioned to proceed with the working drawings and specifications. These were sent out for bids, all of which were far beyond the budget available. Sullivan then simplified his design in a second scheme, but again the bids for construction were considered to be too high. The church then engaged another architect to reduce the scheme further. This watered-down design ended up as a hollow utterance of what Sullivan had had in mind. At this point George Grant Elmslie of the firm of Purcell, Feick and Elmslie entered the fracas; refusing any professional fee, he reworked the drawings to bring the design back as close as possible to Sullivan's second scheme. Sullivan was incensed by the whole affair, but eventually forgave Elmslie for his intervention.

Sullivan's scheme consisted of three parts: a semi-circular auditorium (reflecting in part the fashion for the nineteenth-century Akron plan); a long rectangular volume that housed classrooms and other public spaces, located next to the auditorium; and finally a high tower with hipped roof, to the rear. The planning concept was brilliant, but the stripped-down quality of the exterior and interior leads to a bland, rather unsuccessful design. If the building could have been carried out as planned, it would have had a place alongside William Steele's and Purcell and Elmslie's Woodbury County Courthouse as one of the great monuments of the midwestern Prairie movement.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim


What's Nearby


David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim, "Saint Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church", [Cedar Rapids, Iowa], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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