Friday, September 2, 2011

Field Trip: Takin' It To Church

I needed more information about one of the buildings I photographed a few weeks ago and made arrangements to visit the Indiana Landmarks Center library for research assistance. I was met by Suzanne Stanis, the Center's Director of Heritage Education and Information. After she helped me locate materials I needed for my project, Ms. Stanis very kindly showed me around the newly restored and renovated headquarters.

For many years, I'd passed by the old building as I traveled east on I-65 on my way to Ohio. It was in sad shape, but that did not hide it's unique design and character. When I visited for the first time on Thursday, I had no trouble locating it as the tips of it's golden spires literally gleamed in the sun. I was surprised to see how beautifully it had responded to its restoration.

A view of the Grand Hall, looking towards the south.

The Central Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church was, for many years, home to the largest Methodist congregation in Indiana. Built in three stages in 1891, 1900 and 1922, in Romanesque Revival style, the result is to my eye not so much ornate as it is beautifully crafted. Using only the best materials, there was nothing about the building that wasn't well done. From its red brick and limestone exterior, to its stained glass and extensive woodwork and paneling, the building is an example of the best that man's hand can create. This appearance fitted with the congregation's social philosophy, which was deeply involved in efforts to improve the lives of people in the community. Among other things, members were responsible for the establishment of Methodist Hospital and Wheeler Rescue Mission.

Originally one of the city's first suburbs, the area now called Indianapolis' "Old North Side," itself fell victim to population shifts and the congregation merged with another and left the building. Despite the well-meaning efforts of other organizations, it became neglected and in danger of being destroyed. The Indiana Landmarks Foundation stepped in in 2010 and, with financial support from the Cook family of Bloomington, was able to restore and re-purpose the building at a cost of $10 million.

A section of the balcony railing
The "Old Centrum" organ, built in 1892
by Thomas Prentiss Sanborn, has been completely restored.
The pipe organ has been completely restored and will be rededicated with a concert in the Grand Hall on Saturday, September 18th at 3 p.m. Four organists will perform, accompanied by piano, trumpet, violin and choir.

Chandelier located in the center of the Grand Hall ceiling,
As pleased as she was with the Grand Hall and other sections of the building, Ms. Stanis especially wanted me to see the "Sunday School." As much as I enjoyed the restrained elegance of the Great Hall, I frankly wondered what could be special -- no, make that "more special" -- about a place for little kids to get their lessons.

Oh. Wow

Completely paneled in dark wood, yet light and airy, the circular room (actually, it's octagonal) has a small stage with a blue velvet curtain on its north side and is surrounded with two tiers of class rooms which look out onto the open central area. Now known as the Cook Theatre, the woodwork gives the room a feeling of warmth and intimacy.

The central light of the Sunday school area.

The open area of the Sunday School, surrounded by
two tiers of classrooms.
Both the Grand Hall and the Cook Theatre are available for special occasions such as weddings and banquets, as well as concerts and corporate seminars.


dive said...

Ten million dollars well spent, Speedway. What a magnificent building and an asset to the city. You now have a beautiful theatre and concert hall with all original period details for a fraction of the cost of a new building. Wonderful!

Speedway said...

I'm sorry that the pictures I took of the stained glass windows don't work well. They had them repaired and restored and they are beautiful. I'll go back in a week or so, when I expect to be able to take more time with the windows.

dive said...

Cool! I can't wait.

lin said...

I am sharing this all over the place.

Speedway said...

Hi, Lin! Share, share, share! The building is a real treat, isn't it?