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First Presbyterian Church

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1960–1961, Harold E. Wagoner. 1341 Juliana St. (north end of Juliana St.)

Organized in 1833, this congregation now worships in its fifth church. The fourth, an 1895 Victorian Gothic structure (now Calvary Temple Evangelistic Church), still stands on the east corner of Market and 10th streets.

In the 1920s, the congregation decided to build anew. In brief references, Manufacturers Record reported in January 1927 that the new church would be a “$300,000 Gothic type building,” but that plans, by Bertram Goodhue in association with the New York firm of Mayers, Murray, and Phillip, were not yet complete. Once the plans were let to bid, preliminary estimates ranging from $325,000 to $375,000 wrote finis to the project, but the congregation's two Ladies Aid Societies did raise $2,500 for the blueprints. Instead of erecting a new church, the congregation added a Sunday school wing to the existing building a year later at a relatively modest cost of $48,000.

Three decades later, the congregation chose Harold E. Wagoner of Philadelphia to design the present church plant, which was dedicated in May 1961 at a cost of $1.1 million. Wagoner, better known for a more traditional approach to religious architecture than seen here, envisioned a three-part composition, but only two parts were constructed. The third stage would have included a tower, and its absence results in an excessively horizontal composition with no vertical relief. The facade features long blocks of quarry-faced Ohio sandstone laid in narrow horizontal courses. The sanctuary is covered with a roof that has a single, gentle slope.

An astonishing work of art titled Our Eternal Contemporary dominates the wall of the sanctuary west of the main entrance. Part stained glass window, part mosaic, part sculpture, it is both realistic and symbolic. Among other personages and images, it depicts Christ, John Knox, a steelworker, a chemist, a glassblower, an oil well, and symbols of an atom and a rocket, all bound together by a stylized tree of life. West Virginia's Blenko Company manufactured the faceted glass. Henry Lee Willet, best known for his work in traditional, medieval-inspired stained glass, designed and executed the work, which has to be seen to be believed or understood.

The sanctuary owes a great architectural debt to Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church (1942) in Columbus, Indiana. As there, the room is purposefully asymmetrical, with a large bank of clear glass windows on only one side of the nave. Because Our Eternal Contemporary is in the rear of the sanctuary, the minister and choir see it, but the congregation looks instead upon a wall of stone laid in narrow horizontal courses. A narrow cross, made of wrought iron and nickel silver, is silhouetted against the stone. Furnishings, as would be expected, are contemporary, at least by 1960 standards.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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