Community Christian Church – Building History
Community Christian Church was founded in the late 1800s and blessed with a Frank Lloyd Wright building in the 1940s. Our historic, beautiful, and unique building features our sanctuary, Bonfils Chapel, an activity center, an art gallery, and our steeple of light.
Whether you are looking to plan a special event, such as a wedding, or would like to look through the free art exhibit with a tour of the building, you will find the building to be warm, welcoming, and unique.
In April, 1940, Frank Lloyd Wright, world renowned architect, was commissioned to design a new building for the congregation after the burning of their building on Linwood Boulevard. Wright envisioned the entire property at 46th and Main Streets being devoted to parking with the church building supported on graceful pillars, similar to the mushroom-shaped supports at the Johnson Wax Company office building in Racine, Wisconsin.[less -]
Plans included a 1,000-seat auditorium with accommodations for a Sunday School of more than 700. Also included were a roof garden to be used for entertainment and other church functions, as well as a radical approach in construction of heating and cooling systems.
Wright was considered a genius by some and was known for his complete departure from the ordinary. It was expected that the new church building would be no exception. The idea of air-conditioning for the building was met with much disfavor from Wright exclaiming "Ive gotten more colds in so-called air-conditioned buildings than any other place." He went on to explain that the building he envisioned would be comfortably cool in the summer and warm in the winter using a floor heating and cooling system.
Wright presented his finished plans to the pertinent departments of the church in June, 1940. Parking for 150 cars was allowed; construction of the building would be of steel and rose-tinted concrete. A green copper dome would sit above the chancel area. Wright claimed the building would be "fireproof, earthquake, and vermin-proof" and upkeep would be virtually nil. Wright also claimed that "it is no mere church building, but a new order dated 10 years ahead of its time."
The first drawing of the Frank Lloyd Wright design concept was published in The Kansas City Star on June 13, 1940. One outstanding feature of the design was the tower of lights which would beam from openings in the roof over the chancel area. (See Steeple of Light).
A 1,200 seat auditorium, sloping to a platform as in a theater, was an integral part of Wrights concept. The 46th Street entrance would be designed without steps, an early recognition of the needs of the handicapped.
On October 30th, 1940, Mr. Wright sat in a lengthy conference with city officials, struggling to keep his patience as he listened to the Director of Public Works and the Commissioner of Buildings. The city refused to grant a permit for the building on the grounds that it was too radical to meet the provisions of the citys building code.
At the end of the conference, Wright was accused of planning to put up a circus tent, a mere shell of a building. Wrights plans were considered "skimpy" and the city officials insisted on "plans that any good engineer could understand." A compromise to redesign the foundation by eliminating the "floating" foundation was accomplished and the way was paved for a permit. Once construction began, the Commissioner of Buildings made daily inspection tours at the site and forced builders to add "tons of steel" to insure safety which significantly increased the cost.
Dedication of the new church building was held on January 4, 1942 with over 1,500 persons looking on. On that morning, the coldest of the year, one of the heating plant boilers failed to function properly, making the church sanctuary so chilly that virtually everyone present wore an overcoat and gloves throughout the services. However, even though this system has long been abandoned, it was discovered later that the pump which circulated hot water through pipes under the floor had been adjusted incorrectly and was pumping in reverse, defeating the boilers efforts to send forth heat.
Thanks to many generous donations from members and with generous assistance from Temple Bnai Jehudah, which had been so kind to come to the needs of the congregation after the Linwood property burned, the debt was eliminated and the mortgage was burned in June, 1944.
From Wright Sites - A guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places: The building Mr. Wright planned for the congregation was to be "the church of the future". Financial considerations, war-time shortages of materials and code restrictions greatly compromised Wrights original design. Although the architect lamented that the building was his only in shape, the structure remains highly original and continues to satisfy the needs of the congregation.
Both the exterior outline and interior space of the building are irregular. Wright developed the design from a basic parallelogram unit called a "hex." The walls are constructed of gunnite, an inexpensive, strong, fireproof and lightweight concrete. The use of this material allowed Wright to reduce the thickness of the walls to 2.75". When joined at wide angles the walls thus have the appearance of folded planes. The original construction contained no square corners among the wall junctures. All stairwells, offices and classrooms are hexagonal.
The sanctuarys acoustical quality and seating capacity for nearly 900 people (reduced from the original 1,200 seats) make it an attractive space for musical performances.
Frank Lloyd Wright Design Team
As with any building, there are a number of people that are quintessential to the process. Below are some of the noteable contributors that aided in making our one of a kind place of worship.[less -]
Frank Lloyd Wright
"Light is projected through perforated... roof in various patterns by searchlights... sky-beams... electric beams piercing perforated opening in roof..."(handwritten descriptions of Steeple of Light on original drawings, 1940)
"It will be a wonderful thing to see."
Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ
Interim Executive Director
Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, River Forest, IL
Steeple of Lights Donors
Anonymous, Miriam Arnold, Dave Aull, James and Norma Benjamin, Karl and Sue Bublitz, Mrs. Ruth McCall Huettig, Irene Mullin, Neil and Jacqueline Pouppirt, Priscilla T. Reckling and Robert Lee Hill, Richard and Natalie Rogers
Justin Bell, Larry Buechel, Greg Hull, David McGuire, Jeff "Stretch" Rumaner
Steeple of Lights History
The Steeple of Lights is an iconic symbol that pierces through the darkness. Continue reading the documented summation timeline to discover how our steeple of lights came to be from conception to completion.[less -]
ORIGINAL CONCEPTION, 1940 "Steeple of Light"
The Steeple of Light was conceived as part of Frank Lloyd Wright's vision for Community's "Church-of-the-Future," after church's former structure on the corner of Forest and Linwood burned to the ground, Halloween night, 1939. (See History of Community Christian Church.)
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, 1940-1941
On his birthday, June 8, 1940, Wright wrote notes on architectural renderings for Community Christian Church's new building, concerning "searchlights piercing the perforated masonry roof ... sky-beams ... electric beams...." On August 8, 1941 drawings showed sectional view of eight so-called "floodlights" 1000 watts each. In descriptions of the project in process at the time (1941), The Kansas City Star interprets the forthcoming "steeple of light" as shining forth with "8,000 candlepower."
DALE ELDRED, 1990
To mark its Centennial Celebration in 1990, Community approached Dale Eldred regarding the possibility of fulfilling Frank Lloyd Wright's vision. On November 13, 1990, Community's General Board unanimously approved an agreement with Dale Eldred, "subject to successful test." Initial tests with various available lights were inconclusive and not satisfactorily successful, although Dale stated with absolute confidence: "I'm sure the technology is out there!" (Tragically, Dale Eldred died in a fall in his studio in the West Bottoms on July 26, 1993.)
RENEWED INTEREST, DECEMBER 1993-SPRING 1994
An interested group of Community members commenced its support of the fulfillment of Dale Eldred's design for Frank Lloyd Wright's vision for the "Steeple of Light." Roberta Lord, Dale's wife and artistic collaborator, was approached regarding the possibility of implementing Dale's design for realizing Frank Lloyd Wright's vision. Consultation with Community's General Board followed. A successful test occurred in March 3, 1994. Further inquiries were made with other potential donors and overall contributions were secured.
Bid-lettings with potential searchlight manufacturers. Final unanimous approval by General Board given on June 14, 1994. Morris Mashburn of TeK Lighting Corporation of Brentwood, Tennessee, contracted to make the lights.
Roberta Lord commenced preparatory work with installation crew of artists who had worked on previous projects with Dale Eldred. Electrical Contractors Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri, contracted to do requisite electrical wiring for "steeple of light" hookup.
Lights were delivered on Tuesday, December 6, 1994 and installed later the following weekend, December 9 and December 10. Extraordinary "light-up" tests occurred on Friday, December 9 (one light) and Saturday, December 10 (all four lights).
DECEMBER 15, 1994
"Light-up" and Dedication Service with 400+ in attendance in sanctuary and an equal number (and more!) outside, along Main Street, 46th Street, in Mill Creek Park, and around J.C. Nichols fountain. Faye Smith, Moderator of the Congregation; Rev. Robert Lee Hill, Pastor.
Steeple of Lights Facts & Figures
Find out details about this inspiring feature. The Steeple of Lights captures the attention of all who glimpse it, and many may wonder about how it works, what it takes to work, and even how much it costs to run the lights. Below are the answers to many of the questions that may have crossed your mind.[less -]
LOCATION & PLACEMENT:
Housed on the church roof, inside the perforated dome on the building's northwestern corner. The lights, situated under the dome's four main portals through which they project their beams skyward, have been placed in fixed positions, forming a "steeple", the top of which is "reachable" but unseen by the naked eye.
SIZE & WEIGHT:
Each of the four lights: (1) 5'6" tall, from base to lens; (2) base = 20" x 28"; (3) weight approx. 300 lbs; (4) lens = 20" diameter.
OPERATION & FUNCTION:
4 light systems are placed at 90E of each other and are powered by 60,000 watts of electricity, transformed into DC current to power four (4) 16" Xenon bulbs. Each bulb (16" x 3") is 8 times atmospheric pressure and filled with a rare earth gas (xenon). Each bulb ignites with 40,000 volts and then, in combination with a parabolic reflector, produces 300 million candlepower of illumination (per light) in a near perfect column.
Including artistic design, manufacturing, electrical wiring, construction, on-site preparation, and installation: $43,140 (in 1994).
Electrical cost = $750 per year.
REACH & RANGE:
In theory, the "Steeple of Light" reaches toward infinity. In practical optical terms, with its 1.2 billion candlepower of illumination, the "Steeple of Light" reaches several miles into the stratosphere, visible from as far as 10 miles away.
FREQUENCY OF LIGHTING:
Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from dark until midnight. Extended hours on holidays. Dark: Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
Community of Faith Crosses
Prominently situated on Community's northwest corner are "The Community of Faith" crosses, designed by sculptor/minister Wayne Selsor and featured as the symbol for the 1977 Kansas City General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ.