The Architecture of Fourth Church
Since 1914, more than 8 million people have entered under the carved stone tympanum over the Michigan Avenue entrance to Fourth Presbyterian Church.
Most of the Sanctuary interior and the exterior of the Michigan Avenue frontage is “original,” looking just as it has looked for more than a century. The biggest exterior change was the 1995 addition of the Loggia, the light-filled gallery on the north side of the courtyard, effectively a gradual ramp that allows moving between street level and the Sanctuary without any stairs.
The Fourth Church congregation was founded in 1871 and occupied two earlier church buildings before moving to Michigan Avenue. The cornerstone for the current church was laid in 1912, and the building was dedicated in May 1914. Except for the Old Water Tower, Fourth Church is the oldest building on Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River.
The architect of Fourth Church was Ralph Adams Cram, America’s leading Gothic revival architect, best known for his work on the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Fourth Church is not a “copy” of any one building but instead combines what Mr. Cram saw as the best of English Gothic and French Gothic styles.
The renowned Midwestern architect Howard Van Doren Shaw designed the parish buildings (the Tudor-style structures surrounding the courtyard), which were built at the same time as the church and dedicated in March 1914. The stained-glass windows were designed by Charles Connick of Boston; prominent Chicago artist Frederic C. Bartlett was responsible for the Sanctuary ceiling decorations, including personally painting the rich canvases over the side bays of the nave.
Exactly 100 years after the laying of the cornerstone in 1912, the church laid the cornerstone for the by-then-nearly-completed Gratz Center, a 5-story glass-and-copper addition just west of the 1914 buildings that was dedicated in November 2012. The old and new halves of the campus are connected by a large atrium, the Gignilliat Commons.