View from Court House Cupola, East/Southeast 2; Alexander Hesler, Photograph, 1858 (ichi-05734)
Along with the First Baptist, First and Second Presbyterian, First Unitarian, and First Universalist churches, the First Methodist Church was constructed on Washington Street in the blocks east of LaSalle Street, making this area the religious center of the pre-fire city. The First Methodist Church is the only one of these institutions that remained on the same site. This site is the southeast corner of Washington and Clark, diagonally across the street from the Chicago City Hall and Cook County Building.
First Methodist claims to be the oldest church congregation in Chicago, dating to 1831, two years before tiny Chicago became a town and six years before it was incorporated as a city. Its first house of worship was a log cabin constructed north of the Main Branch of the Chicago River in 1834. Four years later, members floated the cabin across the river and rolled it on logs to the current site. By 1845 they decided they needed a bigger and more substantial home, and they commissioned architect John M. Van Osdel to construct it. Twelve years later they hired Edward Burling to design them an even larger building. In the image here, taken by Alexander Hesler from the top of the Court House in 1858, we see that building under construction.
First Methodist Episcopal Church Block before the Fire; Lovejoy & Foster, Stereograph, ca. 1871 (ichi-22330)
First Methodist’s plan for its 1857 building was bold and unique. Unlike other congregations that were moving out of the area as it became increasingly commercial, First Methodist adapted to this change without leaving. Burling’s structure, faced in local limestone, looked far more like another business building than a church. This appearance was not entirely deceiving. In a strategy that it would continue to follow, First Methodist rented the first floor as retail space and the second floor as offices, reserving the third and fourth floors for its sanctuary, whose seats were arranged in rising curved rows, as in an amphitheater. Other noted multi-use Chicago buildings include a nearby Landmark, Crosby's Opera House, on Washington Street west of State. The outstanding example of this kind of structure remains Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium (1889), at Congress and Michigan, which originally combined a theater, hotel, and office building and now houses the Auditorium Theatre and Roosevelt University.
Post-Fire First Methodist Church Building; Photograph, ca. 1900 (ichi-19985)
Edward Burling and Dankmar Adler designed this building in 1873, before Adler formed his partnership with Louis Sullivan. Once again, the two first floors generated rental income from stores and offices, while the church was on the third and fourth floors.
In its most ambitious step, the First Methodist hired the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche to build its current home, a twenty-one-story skyscraper. The top three stories are a Gothic church, crowned with an eight-story spire. The building was originally named the First Methodist Episcopal Church-City Temple, but this was soon shorted to the Chicago Temple. Few passersby in this very busy section of the city are aware that such exalted sacred space looms above them.