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.”
I appreciate greatly that the stained glass windows are saved. As well as the beautiful skylight. ( I really wish to see it in person!!!!) I grew up in the First Christian Church and it truly broke my heart to know it was demolished for a parkade. I was one of many people who stood out in front to save it. A parkade???? I hope St Luke’s is feeling ok in their hearts about that decision.
Thank you so very much to all who have done preservation and display work!!! This is important even though it doesn’t bring the outstanding architecture and beauty of my church back. I really wish you could have walked in the sanctuary to experience the windows and skylight in a beautiful Sunday morning service!!!!
Saving buildings aren’t just “buildings”. They have and hold rich history that Cedar Rapids is so blessed to have. Walk around our city. Just stand in front of one of our grand buildings, or stately homes. Then imagine……
Who were they? What did they do? How did their lives pave the way for mine here in Cedar Rapids Iowa? The history touches us. It doesn’t just sit in the past.
And then get bold!!! Touch a railing, a door knob. Do you imagine? What do you imagine? They touched these things also. The people who lived back then, who did what they did and made a lot of ways for you and me, they touched those items also. And now so have you. And then the next person. They will feel the spot where you were someday. How are you doing amazing things for our wonderful Cedar Rapids???
Get passionate about something and dive in!!!!
YAY FOR ALL THE PEOPLE WHO SAVE!!!!!
Thank you for your message, Heather! We’re with you 100 percent! In fact, we have a tour this Saturday, April 30, from 1-3 p.m., starting at the J.E. Halvorson House, 606 Fifth Ave. SE. Visitors can see inside historic churches and other architectural gems at the edge of downtown Cedar Rapids. We want to highlight these places that have endured through generations and have stories to tell of the past, present and future!