Earlier today an errand brought us to Ravenswood, on Chicago’s North Side, and since I’m the sort of lady who carries a copy of AIA Guide to Chicago in her backpack, HOB and I found ourselves ogling architecture in this pleasing, European-feeling community.
Here’s a tip, useful for travelling at home and abroad: visit off-the-beaten-path destinations and walk slowly around them, looking curious (extra points for carrying a guidebook.) There’s a good chance you’ll catch the attention of a local who’ll be bursting with pride to show you around. This is precisely what happened this morning at Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church. “Can we answer any questions about the church?” a lovely couple interrupted their weed-pulling chores to ask us. And soon enough the doors were unlocked and the man, Mr. M, was giving us a private tour.
Ah—the interior—an 1890’s delight of mixed, but somehow companionable, styles.
The church’s ceiling is crisscrossed with an English Gothic-wooden timbers.
The decorative timber trusses are carved or painted.
“When I first saw the organ, I knew it was fate that brought us to the church” explained Mr. M. “It looks just like a Japanese fan!”
Mr. M told us a bit of the church’s history while we admired it’s beautiful arch-enclosed organ. The present church is a merger of two formerly separate congregations; the previously existing Ravenswood UMC and another North Side congregation of Japanese-Americans who had moved to Chicago post WWII after being forced to live in internment camps.
Mrs. M told us the windows were designed by Healy & Millet, whose glass artistry many of us Chicagoans cherish inside the Chicago Cultural Center. The windows, along with some of the decorative exterior details, such as the arches over the doors, have a Louis Sullivan vibe.
I was charmed by the flame-hand carvings on the sides of the pews.
The church is celebrating it’s 125th anniversary this weekend and is certainly in tip-top shape to observe this milestone.
Once outside the church we continued to chat with Mr. and Mrs. M while they trimmed the hedges. The M’s matter-of-fact accounts of confinement in Japanese interment camps during WWII were equal parts sobering and commendable. Somehow, neither of them seem to hold a grudge against those who forced them, documented U.S. citizens, to lose their home and farms and to live as prisoners despite having committed no crime. Mrs. M explained that she had a strong family, and that her parents shielded their children from psychological harm by pretending they were in sort of long term YMCA camping retreat. Mr. M claimed to be grateful that the camps removed him from a life a agriculture, bringing him to Chicago where eventually he studied dentistry on the GI bill. (Just consider this: the man was forced into imprisonment for being of Japanese decent and then went on to serve his country in the military!)
That’s the thing about traveling at home—you’re not going to be discovering Chartres Cathedral, but stand around looking curious and you just may find yourself charmed by friendly neighbors who want to flaunt their beautiful architecture and tell you surprising histories of their building that you never would have guessed had you just rushed by about your business, eyes glued to a smart phone.
How we got to Ravenswood Fellowship United Methodist Church: on foot
Where we slept: at home. Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities. Recommended: highly.