Stained glass windows find new homes in Cedar Rapids after demolition of historic church
The stained glass windows inside the new Cedar Rapids Public Library drew Devon Whitman’s curiosity, even though he didn’t know their history.
“Of the things I’ve seen here, those are the ones I’ve thought about the most,” the 21-year-old said, noting that among the library’s high-tech amenities, “they seem a little out of place.”
The library is one of the new homes for the windows, which were salvaged from First Christian Church before the historic building at 840 Third Ave. SE was demolished to make way for medical district parking in 2012.
A review panel organized by The Carl & Mary Koehler History Center decided which applicants would receive the century-old windows, created by celebrated glass artist Louis Millet.
Besides the library, windows also went to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and the New Disciples of Cedar Rapids, while the majority were awarded to Kirkwood Community College.
Leaders of St. Luke’s Hospital, who decided to demolish the church, also retained windows to use in the new Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa medical pavilion. Those windows are in the building’s third floor community room, with a sign noting their origin.
A sign also marks the windows inside the library, but Whitman wasn’t the only library user unaware of the story behind the stained glass.
Millet, credited with founding the Chicago School of Architecture in 1893, collaborated with famed architect Louis Sullivan on several projects, including the Chicago Stock Exchange. Sullivan was a consultant on the design of First Christian Church, which was dedicated in 1913.
The 104 panes of blue, green and amber prairie-style stained glass Millet created for the church features geometric patterns, rather than religious symbols.
Kirkwood art instructor, Arbe Bareis, who is in charge of the college’s art acquisition for new buildings and renovations, said the windows installed in Linn Hall “look sensational.”
The panels are backlit in frames in four locations inside the high-traffic hall, where the focal point is a 1953, 6-foot aluminum globe previously on display at The Eastern Iowa Airport and the Ground Transportation Building in Cedar Rapids.
Bareis said signs will eventually accompany the windows and panes not used in Linn Hall will go in Kirkwood’s Mansfield Center. The college also received the church’s massive skylight, which complements the stained glass, but plans have not been determined regarding its placement, he said.
Windows received by the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation are still being restored, said Jean Brenneman, the group’s Chief Financial Officer. Eventually, the stained glass will be showcased in windows on the main floor of the historic Torch Press Building, 324 Third St. SE, where the foundation is headquartered in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Brenneman said pedestrians and motorists will be able to see the windows on Fourth Avenue SE.
The New Disciples of Cedar Rapids, created with a merger of First Christian and Cedar Christian churches, plans to incorporate the window panels in its new building to be constructed on Williams Boulevard SW.
One panel also will eventually be on display in the lobby of The Carl and Mary Koehler History Center, 615 First Ave. SE.
“I think it was a good decision,” Caitlin Treece, director of the History Center, said of the process of keeping the windows in Cedar Rapids. “It’s a way the public can enjoy them and preserve them and show how beautiful they are.”
The demolition of the church marked the formal beginning of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, an organization created to prevent further losses of the city’s cultural treasures.
Maura Pilcher, a board member of Save CR Heritage who led the charge to save the church, said she appreciates the efforts of the groups that were awarded the windows, but dividing up the stained glass diminishes Millet’s artwork.
“It’s nice,” she said, “but they were intended to be a part of a whole. It was never the artist’s intent that they be observed this way.”