FBCC Physical History
The First Baptist Congregational Church was originally known as the Union Park Congregational Church. It is quite large, seating 1500 people. Due to the nature of a congregational church service, the building is almost square in plan; the transept is extended but slightly out from the nave in the form of a latin cross. This church accommodates an amphitheater style seating arragement.
It is Gothic in style, but the Gothic elements are treated quite freely and in a manner similar to other church edifices of the period.
Because of the great width of the interior, the roof is a free span composed of a large wooden truss system. The ceiling is suspended from this truss. The beams of the truss, approximately 2 feet square, were prefabricated and bear the oration of the truss work necessitated its shoring up and restoration, including the addition of metal tie-rods and collars to insure its strength. This was done without affecting the design of the structure.
The church is of masonry construction. The outer wall is faced with Lemont limestone, a material similar to that used for the Water Tower, and in popular use for churches of the 1860s and 70s. The inner fabric is brick with larger pieces of the exterior stone penetrating completely through to bind the wall together.
On the ground floor is located a broad vestibule opening on the Ashland Avenue running the width of the façade, this vestibule is flanked by twin staircases leading to the sactuary above on the main floor; there is also a large assembly hall and subsidiary service rooms at this level. The sanctuary, entered from a vestibule at the main floor level similar to the one below, occupies the entire main floor. The dimensions of the sanctuary are yet to be determined. The flooring is wood and the walls are plastered and trimmed in wood. Filling the apse behind the pulpit and communion table is a huge pipe organ, the mechanical equipment for which is located directly behind.
The organ dominates the interior space. The pipes of the organ actually conceal four organs, two of which are located in the balcony. Built by W. W. Kimball and Company and designed by Dr. William Lester, It is the largest enclosed pipe organ ever made. It cost $250,000, which would be about one-half million dollars today. The organ was not installed until 1927 and because of its size structural work was needed in order to support and house it. The work was started in January and was not completed until June. The organ was dedicated on October 9, 1927.
Also in 1927, it became obvious that restoration was needed in te sanctuary and this room was closed. The timbers of the roof trusses had dried out and thus were extremely dangerous. Auxiliary roof trusses were put in, the foundations and walls were strengthened and the structure was completely redecorated. It is thought that $150,000 was spent on the work but it did not alter the church architecturally.
In front of the organ on the main floor is the pulpit. The pulpit furniture was originally in the 1851 church.
Twin staircases in the vestibule of the main floor level lead to the balcony above, which is cantilevered out from the exterior walls on all four sides and is further supported by cast-iron columns. The balcony is gracefully shaped, curving gently away from the choir in the shape of a broad oval, the choir section immediately before the organ pipes is slightly convex in shape however. The balcony is wood with a wooden railing.
The sanctuary is lighted by 10 narrow pointed-arched stained glassed windows, flanking the nave, and one larger window in each end of the transept, and the narthex. Behind the organ in the gable of the apse is a smaller round window.
The stained-glass windows continue from the main floor below through the balcony and upward. Six chandeliers further light the sanctuary. The ceiling is peaked following the general outline of the cruciform shaped roof. It is plastered and detailed with wooden ribs, defining its structural shape. The ceiling springs from a wooden ledge embellished by Gothic tracery of carved wood.
The attic and bell tower located on the northeast corner is reached through the continuation of the northern staircase of the vestibule. The attic space between the false ceiling and the roof is occupied by the wood truss system and is approximately 20 feet high. Small round windows at the ends of the nave light it. The roof is slate.
Immediately adjacent to the south is a smaller chapel, the Carpenter Chapel. The chapel is long and rectangular in shape. It is constructed of the same stone as the main church and is similar in design to the main church. The interior is plastered and trimmed in wood, and is treated more simply than the main church. Behind the pulpit is a pipe organ, which extends over the width of the building.