At the turn of the twentieth century, after a decade of renting space in various buildings in Evanston, the Evanston Unitarians began serious talk about building their own church. The board of trustees thought raising that kind of money would be too hard for the little congregation until the Woman’s Alliance presented them with $5000 they had collected through bake sales, rummage events, and square dances, to seed a capital campaign. Well, said the board, I guess we might, at that.
Marion Mahoney offered to design the building. She was part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s young studio and a member of the church. She and a building committee (dontcha know) came up with the little chapel on Chicago Avenue, dedicated in 1904. In 1924 the congregation added a social hall and classrooms.
The congregation grew in fits and starts until the 1950’s, when they experienced the bump of growth felt by most denominations as post-war families brought their youngsters to church. The Sunday school began using classrooms at nearby Miller School and once again the congregation thought about building a church.
This time, they wanted space not only for their children but for themselves, as well – to square dance! And voila! the concrete cathedral designed by architect Paul Schweikher was conceived and dedicated in 1958. Members of the congregation worked over the next fifty years to warm our barn with touches of beauty: gradually we added the mural, banners, stained glass, a dropped ceiling, a terrazzo floor, a chancel.
One wonders what they felt as they moved from their cozy chapel on Chicago Avenue to the concrete hall on Ridge Avenue. Must have taken some adjusting, wouldn’t you say? But, oh! could they square dance!
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Submitted by: Margaret Shaklee
We Evanston Unitarians have a long history of carefully considering the naming of our church. When we were founded in 1891, we were not pressured to name ourselves, and so we didn’t. Known informally as the Evanston Unitarians, the church was not officially named until 1902, when it became apparent that they needed to be incorporated in order to buy land and obtain the mortgage necessary to build a new church. And they needed to provide a corporate name on the applications.
Anecdote has it that the new religious education director asked that the congregation settle on a name because it was hard to ask new families to come to a church with no name. A vigorous discussion ensued as to whether the young congregation wanted to be identified with the Unitarians, who had a much more radical sense of themselves out here in the west than they had back east where our founding families originated. A congregational meeting resulted in the default choice of “All Souls Church”; the vote was exactly even for “Unitarian” and “All Souls,” and the chair of the board felt the idea was too important for him to break the tie and tip the fledgling congregation into identity crisis. Nevertheless, the Evanston community continued to recognize them as Unitarians and regularly called the church “All Souls Unitarian Church.”
The congregation changed the church name to the Unitarian Church of Evanston in 1931, at the suggestion of Rev. Lester Mondale, who convinced them that being openly Unitarian would add to the strength of liberal religion by contributing to the name recognition of that growing liberal denomination.
At the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists in 1961, churches were asked to consider adding the new denominational moniker to their name. UCE demurred, as “Unitarian Universalist Church of Evanston” seemed cumbersome and “UUCE” awkward to say. Until now.