Design of the First United Methodist Church

The First United Methodist Church was designed by the firm of Schack, Huntington and Wager (later Schack & Huntington). The firm of Schack & Huntington was short-lived, although they also designed the Delmar Apartments on Queen Anne Hill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Seattle Landmark. James Schack later formed the firm Schack, Young & Meyers, whose notable commissions included the Civic Auditorium complex (altered), Chamber of Commerce Building and the Chinese Baptist Church. The latter is on the National Register of Historic Places. Daniel Huntington also practiced with Arthur Loveless and with Carl Gould, with whom he designed the Sanitary Market. He was City Architect from 1912 to1921. In this position he designed numerous structures, including the Wallingford Fire and Police Station, the Lake Union Steam Plant, the piers of the Fremont Bridge, the Fremont Public Library, and numerous fire stations. Many of these structures are both Seattle Landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1907 James Schack traveled throughout the West and Midwest with the building committee of the First United Methodist Church to research other Methodist-Episcopal churches before developing their own building program. Early plans were to build a Romanesque Revival church, which along with Gothic were acceptable models for church buildings of that period. An Auditorium Plan was to be adopted for the sanctuary, a plan developed by the Methodists and adopted across the country by Protestant churches for the new revival style services. The lower level was to be designed to the new Akron Plan Sunday school model, another innovation by the Methodists and widely adopted. This plan was well equipped for teaching the Uniform Lesson Plan, which had been enthusiastically endorsed by many Protestant denominations. This flexible plan also accommodated the increasing number of social service and educational functions being undertaken by urban Protestant churches at this time.

Some time between that trip and laying the cornerstone of the new church in 1908, the design of the church changed dramatically. The interior functions remained the same, but the exterior design was changed from Romanesque Revival to Beaux-Arts influenced classicism. Classical Revival churches became somewhat popular in the United States in the late 1910s and 1920s, as part of a series of revival styles being practiced from the mid- 1880s to the 1920s. But at this early date a classical vocabulary was not yet considered appropriate for the Protestant churches.

The Christian Science church had adopted classical vocabulary to distinguish itself from the other Protestant religions and align itself with the City Beautiful Movement. Classicism was also considered appropriate for churches of other faiths, including Judaism, because it referenced earlier, 'primitive' faiths. Through the early twentieth century, central plans, which the First United Methodist Church displayed, and classical churches were believed by many to recall earlier pagan religions. There were considered appropriate for martyria and mausoleums, which were round and centrally oriented, not churches. It was felt that a "proper" church should display a basilica plan and preferably be designed in a Gothic or Romanesque style, but a basilica plan did not suit the new evangelical purposes of many protestant religions.

So Beaux-Arts Classicisms with Byzantine influences was an unusual choice for the First United Methodist Church. The Byzantine vocabulary was virtually unknown in Seattle at this time and not widely seen nationally until the construction of St. Bartholomew's church by Bertram Goodhue in New York, designed in 1918. Two other churches utilizing classical vocabularies were being constructed in Seattle at this time, the Swedish Tabernacle/First Covenant Church (1906-1910) and the now-destroyed First Presbyterian Church (1906-1908). But these recalled Greek, Roman, and Renaissance precedents. The churches that were most like the First United Methodist Church were the First Church of Christ Scientist at 1519 E. Denny Way, by Bebb & Mandel and constructed in 1909 and 1914, and the Bikur Cholim Synagogue at 17th and Yesler, designed by B. Marcus Priteca, and constructed between 1912 and 1915. Note that both are later structures, and designed for Christian Science and Jewish congregations, respectively. By the time these churches were being constructed, classicism was enjoying another revival and classical influences were seen in various building types.


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