Completed in 1914, the nearly century-old St. Paul’s Methodist Church in southeast Cedar Rapids is perhaps best known for being designed by famous architect Louis Sullivan, a fact that is only partially true. The actual built design was carried out by Chicago architect W.C. Jones, after Sullivan resigned in 1912, refusing to sacrifice ornamentation to keep within budget. Jones then altered Sullivan’s plans, mostly removing ornamentation, maintaining much of the original design. (St. Paul’s UMC)
Sullivan’s design, however, was not the only one considered for St. Paul’s new building. In 1909, the church purchased land at 3rd Ave. and 14th Street SE, and soon sent requests to several architects for competitive bids and plan proposals. One of these architects, evidently, was the Minneapolis firm of William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie.
Active between 1907 and 1921, Purcell and Elmslie, was the second most commissioned firm of the Prairie School after Frank Lloyd Wright. (Wikipedia) Their design proposal to St. Paul’s Church included a perspective rendering, floor plan, and elevation drawing, seen below. The extent of detail is impressive for just a proposal and makes me curiosity about other proposals the church may have received.
Given Sullivan’s influence on the Prairie School, it’s not surprising that Purcell and Elmslie’s design for St. Paul’s was stylistically similar to Sullivan’s, both progressive and decidedly nontraditional. The new church site would have been at the edge of town at the time, arguably making the Prairie style even more fitting.
This make me wonder if St. Paul’s desired a modern new church, intentionally seeking out innovative architects for something different than the traditional archetype. Additionally it is just interesting to consider the entire process of the new building, something not often dwelled upon in architectural history. Perhaps more telling is, not what was actually built, but what could have been.