An “architectural sampler” might be the best way to describe Coeur d’Alene’s old Methodist Episcopal Church. Once a house of worship, it stands sturdily on the corner of Wallace and Seventh streets. The building is described in its National Register of Historic Places nomination as “transitional,” “eclectic,” “bold,” “experimental,” “exuberant” and “energetic.” It is all of these things because there is a lot going on, architecturally speaking.
Built in 1906 and dedicated in 1908, its diverse design justly expressed the daring of a young architect, and the vitality of a growing congregation in a promising new community.
To design their new church, members chose a prominent architect and newcomer, George Williams, whose credits include the Masonic Temple, the Coeur d’Alene City Hall, the Roosevelt School (the Roosevelt Bed and Breakfast Inn) and the Davis House (the Greenbriar Inn) on West Wallace Avenue. All are on the National Register.
This church has seen many changes within and in the neighborhood in which it was built. In recent years, it won a place on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places, said goodbye to the congregation that built it, was threatened by a roof fire and starred in a television series. Today it is privately owned and home to the Coeur d’Alene Wedding Chapel.
To appreciate and recognize the diversity in the architect’s plan one needs to begin on the outside, standing across the street, on the north side of Wallace Avenue, the blond, pressed brick building is notable for its unusual, stepped, gabled façade – sometimes called a Flemish façade. On either side are two towers with mock battlements, giving the place a castlelike appearance. The left, taller tower finishes with a spire while the tower on the right is a short, hipped roof design, capped with a finial. The various windows, and apertures, large and small are described in the nomination as Gothic and Tudor in shape.
If you could look straight down on the building, you would see it has a cruciform shape with shallow transepts also with stepped gables.
The entryway, on the left corner, with its pitched roof and crossbeams displays a Craftsman touch. On the wall on the left side of the door are the 1908 dedicatory cornerstone and the bronze plaque denoting placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walk through the doorway and up the steps through the vestibule and into the main body of the church. On the south end is the apse defined by its curved walls and ribbed, vaulted ceiling. The choir loft is on the north. Although the configuration of the building is reminiscent of European country churches, the simplicity of the woodwork and the use of native woods is American Craftsman.
Simple, wooden columns with scrolled, Ionic capitals line the east and west walls. These classical columns standing on either side once separated the seating area of the nave from walkways or ambulatories that ran from back to front.
At the point where the wall line joins the ribs supporting the ceiling there is a touch of art nouveau, suggested by a painted-on, foliage design. The long curved pews are fine quality oak and a carved floral design at the end of the each pew suggests art nouveau.
Once, stained glass filled all of the windows, but prior to the congregation’s move in 1994 to the new church on West Hanley the stained glass was removed to the new church where a number of the windows have been installed and incorporated into the new structure. One of these is the “Good Shepherd Window,” designed by the studio of Lewis Comfort Tiffany. The window is now in place in the south wall of the new chapel along with the windows inspired by the Beatitudes of Christ. According to church history, the Beatitude windows were paid for with the pennies, nickels and dimes of children. Other Tiffany windows, including the largest and most valuable, “Resurrection Morning,” remain in storage.
The pipe organ, installed in the old church in the same year as the dedication of that building, has also been moved to the new quarters where the organ and the original pipes were placed after the instrument had been rebuilt and restored. The woodwork that surrounds the new installation was done by local craftsman Klaus Rau. The organ also was a commemorative gift given in honor of the Rev. Robert Fry who was minister at the time of the building of the church on Wallace Avenue.
Despite the loss of its congregation the old church remains a part of the life of the community. Brides still walk down the aisle as they have for the past one hundred years thanks to the efforts of Suzanne Anderson, who leases the building from a private owner and operates the Coeur d’Alene Wedding Chapel.
Her assistant, Lisa Anderson says that Suzanne is the guiding force behind the business. “She has put so much of herself into it.”
Lisa, who also bakes wedding cakes on order, says that many weddings become so hectic trying to make it a perfect day that those involved sometimes can’t wait for the day to be over with. “We try to make it as easy as possible. We can handle everything from catering a dinner to just helping when people want to bring their own food. It can be a very large wedding or a small one with maybe the couple and a few others. The small ones are the ones I most enjoy.”
There have been some unsettling occasions she admits. “Once, just two hours before the ceremony, the bride discovered her dress had been left in Spokane.” Someone retrieved the missing gown just in time for the wedding to proceed as planned.
Have there been any “unusual” weddings? “Yes,” says Lisa. “One that brought a smile was one in which the groom and groomsmen wore tights and the bride walked down the isle to the theme music from “Star Wars.”
About six years ago the church had a close call with fire. According to Lisa, workmen had been doing some rewiring near the roof. A spark started a fire in the roofing but it was discovered and brought under control quickly. The only damage was from water and smoke.
The church also had a chance in television when, in 1996, the church was chosen for the site of a new series, “Amazing Grace,” starring Patty Duke in the role of a woman who is a minister. Some alterations in the interior were done that are not permanent. The nave was made narrower with walls built just outside the classical columns and the front was rebuilt to replace the empty area where the original organ had stood. Set designers placed new, stained glass windows in the new walls. These superficial changes remain and in no way detract from the integrity of the building because they could be removed at any time.
One wonders what the future holds for this church that was built by and for people who, for the most part, lived within walking distance. The neighborhood where they lived is renewing itself. Houses as old as the church have fresh paint and well-kept yards. Can the old church fill a permanent place here? It is hard to tell, but perhaps the diversity in its architecture opens the door to a diverse future, attractive to people with imagination as creative as its architect.
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