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First Baptist Church

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1879, Walker and Gould. 1400 Pawtucket Ave. (at Pleasant St.)

Except for the obtrusive placement of an access ramp, this is an unusually well-preserved version of a Queen Anne church. It is Queen Anne from the decade of wide-eyed rediscovery of the colonial past, when distorted bits and pieces from the eighteenth century mixed with such Victorian elements as complex roofs, turned porch elements, and sculptural cappings for belfries or towers, and clapboards combined with patterned shingling. The “colonial” contribution is, above all, the scroll pediment which caps the big window dominating the principal gable. But no colonial designer would have floated the pediment in such a disembodied manner above the window, as though it belonged more to the bracketed molding and the gable behind and above it than to the window below. Nor would the Scurves of a colonial scroll pediment display such linear energy, or would their circular terminations squeeze the central bracket motif so tightly, as though some machine had rolled out and elongated a plastic material. The vergeboarded edging of the gable contains piquant foliated ornament, cut with a scroll saw in a thoroughly Victorian manner, and with two unexpected cherub heads midway along its length.

Inside, a stubby Greek-cross plan—a favorite of the period—makes a sacred auditorium with pews arced around the pulpit. Some changes have occurred in furnishings and decoration; but the essentials remain. Most important, large but thin wooden structural brackets, hung with lights, are angled from the four interior corners of the cross and tied with metal rods across the space. Light metal arching with more tie rods rises to support the cross-gabled roof. It recalls carriage construction—at once elegant, rational, and fanciful. After the heartily rambunctious, aggressive forms of High Victorian styles, Queen Anne favored more delicate, self-consciously pretty effects, with a palette of whites or soft pastels, misty mauves, and dusty roses replacing, as here, the stridency of earlier color combinations. In the five openings of the big front gable window, stained glass of a somewhat later date than the building depicts the Virgin flanked by attending angels, stylized to fit their tall, narrow panels, with geometric and abstracted flower patterns around them. In another context, this could be chivalric: Guinivere and her ladies in waiting. Pre-Raphaelitism has been filtered through the Renaissance Revival.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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