Life Span: 1873-Present
Location: Southeast Corner of Dearborn Street and Walton Place
Architect: Burling & Adler
Excerpted from Historical Sketch of Unity Church, Chicago, 1878
Our enjoyment of our new and costly temple was short. The 9th of October, 1871, witnessed its destruction and the ruin of the homes of most of its worshippers. Only the massive walls and towers stood as monuments to the good faith which had gone to its building.
On a Sunday, shortly after the great fire, a handful of people stood among the ruins listening to comfortable words from the pastor, and pledging themselves to each other that Unity Church should rise again.
During the rebuilding, services were held in a temporary wooden building, which had been hastily erected by our neighbors of the New England Church, and was most kindly offered to us for use on Sunday afternoons.
Services were resumed in the lecture room of the church during the winter of 1872-3, and on Sunday, December 7th, 1873, the house was dedicated, and the auditorium occupied for the first time. Dr. Furness, of Philadelphia, preached this, our third, dedication sermon. The total cost of reconstruction, including the organ, appears to have been $91,737.
And so began, in the deepening shadows of the year 1873. the third era of our history as a Christian Church.
Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1873
The dedication of the new Unity Church building is announced for to-day. Several eminent divines are expected to be present, and the occasion will no doubt be one of great interest. No one will be more happy, we venture to assert, than the genial and beloved pastor himself, the Rev. Dr. Robert Collyer, who by his own energies has built up this society, and placed it in its high position among the churches of Chicago/ The history of Unity Church has been given in a recent number of The Tribune. It os proper at this time to supplement this with a description of the new building, and a brief sketch of the life of him who occupies the sacred desk in its inclosure.
Description of the Building.
It is nearly six years since the congregation of Robert Collyer gathered to witness the dedication of Unity Church. Upon its ruins, after the October fire, another has been created, with much improvements as the pastor, trustees, and architects, Messrs. Burling & Adler, deemed necessary for the success of congregational warship. It is situated just east of Washington Park, on the North Side.
The size of the building is 136 by 78 feet; the side-walls are 40 feet high, and the main gable terminates in a finial, 83 feet above the sidewalk. The front is flanked by two lofty towers, which are yet to be finished, with slated spires.
The vestibule, from which the great entrance and two smaller side entrances open, is 25 feet wide and extends across the width of the church. This liberal space is amply sufficient to prevent the annoyance of persons crowding each other for exit, which is a fault with many churches.
The entrances to the lecture room, which are on the vestibule floor, are three in number, of more than usual width. The lecture-room is 56 by 70 feet, and 15 feet high; it is well lighted from both sides, and is neatly finished in hardwood. The space in the rear of the lecture-room is taken up by the pastor’s study, classrooms, kitchen and culinary department, and stairs leading to the audience-room and gallery.
The main stairs to the audience-room at either end of the front vestibule are eight feet wide and easy of ascent; the newel-post, hand-rail, balusters, and stringers, are of yellow pine and black walnut, massive and elegant, but of quiet richness. The audience-room is 70 by 89 feet, and, with the gallery, has 1,400 sittings. The floor sinks gradually from the door to the pulpit, and the sittings, which are massive pews of black walnut, are arranged as arcs of a circle, whose centre is the pulpit, an improvement which gives the greatest possible facility in seeing and hearing. The gallery, supported on iron columns, is amphitheatrical in form, the seats rising as they recede. The pews, similar to those on main floor, are arranged in like manner. The pulpit is on a platform four feet high, and placed as far as possible forward into the centre of the room, in accord with the desire of the pastor to get near the people, his experience having shown him that it is hard to stir a sinner at a distance of 12 feet!The choir gallery and organ are placed behind the pulpit. The organ chamber is an addition built at the rear of the church, and opens into the main room through a large, pointed arch, elaborately ornamented with columns, having carved capitals, and from which spring a richly-moulded archivolt. The roof is open-timbered, of the hammerbeam type. From massive stone corbels, enriched with scripture, spring the curved braces which support the hammerbeam.
The pendants, tracery, and braces of the roof are of black walnut and rich yellow pine, stained and varnished. The ceiling follows the slope of the the roof, and is divided into square panels; these are frescoed in bright colors, which heighten the beauty of the room. The rear end of the room is semi-octagonal in shape. From the angles of the octagon roof trusses spring to the centre of the room. This peculiar shape at once assists the acoustics, and forms, with the organ-chamber, a very striking and picturesque combination.
Through the great front windows, and those upon the sides, the bright sunlight, caressed and softened by the stained glass, will descend upon the congregation there assembled.
Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1903
Unity church, where the eloquence of Robert Collyer first attracted attention, is to be abandoned as a home for religious service.
After various financial vicissitudes attending the dwelling congregation the Unitarian place of worship has been sold, and after June 1 will be used as a lodge hall, the Medinah Temple Mystic Shrine having closed a deal with the trustees by which the structure will be acquired for $65,000.
One result of the sale is the resignation of the pastor, the Rev. Albert Lazenby, which was announced yesterday morning. There were tears for the loss of the spiritual home and for the going of the minister among the members of the little flock of Chicago pioneers who occupied the pews, as they have every Sunday morning since the great fire. The resignation will take effect when the church is actually relinquished in June.
Future Is in Doubt.
The plans of the congregation and of Dr. Lazenby are as yet unformulated. The congregation had been depleted in numbers by death and the removal of old families to other parts of the city, and at one time it came near disbanding. Four years ago the society took a new lease of life when Dr. Lazenby was called from Glasgow, Scotland, to take the charge.
The purchasers of the church are planning to expend about $35,000 in alterations and repairs on the property. The auditorium, which has a seating capacity of 800 persons, will be enlarged, and provided with a spacious stage. The pews will be removed and replaced by chairs, and the organ will be transferred to the opposite end of the hall. The Sunday school room in the basement will be transformed into a banquet hall.
Built After the Great Fire.
The church building, which at Dearborn avenue and Walton place, is the second one built by the Unity church society. The first, built in 1867, was destroyed by the fire of 1871. Robert Collyer was the pastor at that time, and the Sunday morning following the fire he preached to his congregation among the ruins of the church.
The present structure was finished in 1873 at a cost of $90,000. During the following six tears Mr. Collyer laid the foundations of his fame and made Unity church known throughout the country.
In 1879 Mr. Collyer resigned and accepted a call to the Church of the Messiah in New York. The church never fully recovered from his leaving. The society diminished steadily in numbers, and only last year the debt on the church forced the trustees to advise closing it and and placing the building on the market.
The generosity of one of the congregation, however, permitted the continuaton of services through the winter.
Unity church has been sold to Medinah Temple of the Mystic Shrine and will be occupied as a lodge hall. The congregation has been depleted by death and removals and the financial responsibilities were too great for the remaining members to bear. The church was made famous by Robert Collyer, who for years was its pastor.
Chicago Tribune, August 5, 2006
The Scottish Rite Cathedral in the Gold Coast neighborhood has had its share of lives.
Built as the Unity Church in 1869, it survived the Great Chicago Fire two years later but with extensive damage. It rose again, rebuilt in Joliet limestone as a towering Gothic presence at North Dearborn Parkway and Walton Street. In 1911, the Scottish Rite, part of the Masons fraternal order, purchased it for $125,000.
Now, this Chicago landmark is poised to become the cornerstone of an approximately $450 million, 500-unit residential complex, one of the largest to go up in this tony North Side neighborhood in many years. The developers are seeking final city and community approvals, and hope to start construction in early 2007 or as soon as about 40 percent of the planned condominiums are sold.
Two weeks ago, the Enterprise Cos. and Mesirow Stein Real Estate Inc. signed a contract to pay about $60 million for the entire city block, 77,000 square feet, occupied by the cathedral, three 19th Century mansions and a parking lot.
The development team wants to put up two 40-story towers for the condominium units that will be priced from about $400,000 to $1.2 million. The project will conform to current zoning requirements, said Ron Shipka Sr., a principal of Enterprise.
It also will include 12,000 square feet of commercial space, and parking for about 570 cars of the building’s residents and some neighbors. The historic mansions will be preserved, renovated and then sold as residences. The church facade will be restored and the building donated to a non-profit organization for its own use, Shipka explained.
“We started with the idea of a modern building, but it will be more traditional to accommodate neighborhood concerns and be consistent with the block’s historic landmark structures,” Shipka said. The Chicago firm Pappageorge/Haymes Inc. will be the architect.
Some neighbors still have issues to resolve. “We have to have a hearing and work it out with the community,” said Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd).
But it’s an opportunity to increase public revenue, he added, saying “it’s a piece of property that has always been tax-exempt.” Frank Roth, chairman of the Scottish Rite real estate committee, expects the deal to close in October.
“We’re excited about the sale, the future of the property,” he said. “The developers care about the community, about keeping the structures and adding to them.”
Equally as pleased are preservationists such as David Bahlman, president of Preservation Illinois, a private non-profit organization that saves historic architecture and sites.
Long aware that this is a prime development site, “we were worried that any plan would include demolition,” Bahlman said. “We’re delighted it doesn’t. It’s very important to the city and its architecture to save this Chicago landmark.”
The limestone Scottish Rite Cathedral, as viewed from Dearborn and Walton, would be preserved in a redevelopment of the block where it sits.
While the project might have great historic and artistic merit, it is also likely to have great market value as the largest luxury residence being created in that long-built-out neighborhood in recent years, explained Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors.
“The Gold Coast is a mature market with very little new product besides the occasional infill project,” she said. “What makes the Scottish Rite site so good is that there’s so little land available for development.”
Indeed, during the past 10 years, only about 1,400 new units have been built in the Gold Coast, which has about 25,000 existing residential units. Meanwhile, in the South Loop about 10,000 units have been built since the mid-1990s, she estimated.
Two boutique luxury projects are among those now under construction in the Gold Coast. At 50 E. Chestnut St., there is a building going up with 34 units priced from $2.3 million to $3.1 million. At 50 Oak St., there is a project with 46 units priced from $600,000 to $3.5 million.
“In the Gold Coast, there’s excellent demand for condominiums,” Lissner said, “The trick is offering units of varying size so they’re affordable to a wide range of buyers.”
The Scottish Rite project, however, has a rare commodity among these buildings. At 40 stories, it can offer stunning views, said Tere Proctor, the sales director for the Trump International Hotel and Tower.
“That’s a tremendous draw,” she said. “At these prices, buyers want it all and should have it all.”
To compete with thousands of luxury residential units going up in other city neighborhoods, Proctor added, the developers must offer “all the bells and whistles, and then some.”
Southeast Corner of Dearborn Street and Walton Place
Robinson Fire Map
Scottish Rite Cathedral