Pilgrim Baptist Church

Icons at Risk

Pilgrim Baptist Church

Credit: Library of Congress

Pilgrim Baptist Church

Location: Chicago

Architects: Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler

Year: 1890

A little-known work by great American premodernists Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, the Pilgrim Baptist Church was constructed initially as a synagogue. The building is an early but strong example of the form-follows-function aesthetic that Sullivan and other Chicago architects developed from the 1880s onward, influencing Frank Lloyd Wright and modernist architects the world over. Within a stern limestone exterior stood an ornamented jewel box in the refined art nouveau style for which Sullivan's office was renowned. Especially notable was a superb acoustic ceiling; Sullivan and Adler were noted for such work in both Chicago and New York, where Adler consulted on the design for Carnegie Hall. The Pilgrim Baptist Church played a significant role in Chicago's cultural life. Thomas A. Dorsey developed gospel music at the church in the 1930s, and such performers as Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin sang there. A fire in early 2006 destroyed the interior and the roof, but the structure's massive walls remain intact. The church's cash-strapped congregation still hopes to restore this important architectural and musical landmark to its original magnificence. 

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