BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Following a catastrophic fire in 1900, the elders of the Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue district sought out to commission a new interior for their beloved church. In their selection, they took a bit of a chance in whose capable hands they would place the fate of the South Michigan Avenue church.
Eventually, they placed their faith in Howard Van Doren Shaw, a young parishioner and rising architect with a passion for the British Arts and Crafts movement. Shaw was tasked with bringing back to life the original gothic revival structure built by James Renwick, architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution castle, in 1874.
It is now one of only three buildings in Illinois designated as a National Historic Landmark and perhaps the greatest visual tribute to Tiffany stained glass through its most magnificent years, with nine windows dating from 1892 to 1917.
On a recent sunny Saturday, guests of the Friends of Historic Second Church viewed these windows, given as memorials to some of Chicago’s dynasties (many of whom had viewed the stunning Tiffany exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition). Murals by the painter Frederic Clay Bartlett, donor of Post-Impressionist collections at the Art Institute, also caught their eyes.
Barbi and Tom Donnelley served on the event’s host committee, which also included Susan and Frederick Burian. Barbi’s great-great-grandfather Silas Cobb, originally a Vermonter, and his family attended the church in the 1870s and 1880s.
As a member of the Auxiliary Council of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which met at Glessner House, Barbi discovered that her family had lived on Prairie Avenue over three generations in different houses. With her keen interest in historic preservation, architecture, and the history of Chicago, she has done research with a number of scholars, including John Boyer; Martin A. Ryerson, Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago; and Bill Tyre, Glessner House Executive Director.
“Second Presbyterian Church embodies the early pioneer spirit in its tradition of excellence carried down to today. The Peace Window by Louis Comfort Tiffany, given in the memory of Silas Cobb by his daughters and installed in 1903, gives me a visual tie to the past of Chicago of which I am so proud.
“My husband Tom and I want to do what we can to preserve the beautiful window and all that it embodies in the history of the Chicago. It has given me the greatest pleasure to be a part of the early settlement of the city.”
Second-floor balconies allowed guests the opportunity not only to look at, but to touch, those rare stained glass windows. Linda Miller, Friends of Historic Second Church President; Ann Belletire; and Nate Lielasus pointed out to attendees the priority restoration needs. The Friends have launched a $500,000 campaign to restore the Tiffany Peace Window, the pre-Raphaelite murals by Frederic Clay Bartlett, and other repairs throughout the structure.
A luncheon in the courtyard of Glessner House, Prairie Avenue’s historic H.H. Richardson masterpiece, was followed by a behind-the-scenes tour led by Bill Tyre.
That afternoon, Linda Miller recalled:
“When I first toured the church, I was truly struck by the beauty and peacefulness of the interior. Being a docent gives me the opportunity to experience the first moment of awe with each guest.”
The Friends of Historic Second Church offers public tours every Wednesday from 1 to 3 pm, every Saturday from 11 until 3, and every Sunday at 12:15, following church services. To schedule a private tour, call 1-800-657-0687 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit their website: http://www.2ndpresbyterianfriends.org.