Henry J. Schlacks

CHICAGO CHURCH ARCHITECT

 

 

 

 


Saint Paul Church
1897-1899
2234 South Hoyne
Telephone:  (773)  847 7622

Style: Gothic
Seating: 500

One of his first churches, St. Paul's was Schlacks' favorite. Thirty years in the finishing, the fireproof edifice was built by the German parishioners themselves entirely of brick without a single nail, the first of its kind in this country. Because no contractor could be found able to work in this method, Schlacks himself served as contractor and traveled to the Moselle Valley in Germany, where many of the parishioners had come from, so that he could personally research the building method.

Two fourteenth-century style towers soar 245 feet into the sky. In carrying out the pastor's request for twin towers, Schlacks was influenced by St. Cortin Church in Quimper, France. The salmon-colored brick in the façade varies the reddish-brown color and rougher texture of the Ohio firebrick of the rest of the exterior and of the interior. Terra cotta is used only in the window tracery and in a few other elements which could not be made of brick. In the ruddy brown gloom of the interior, the whiteness of the four marble statues of the evangelists stand out at the four corners of the crossing of the nave and transept, as does the gleaming whiteness of the Cararra marble altar Schlacks designed for the sanctuary in 1910. The handsome balustered original white-marble altar rail still remains in place, although sans its brass gate, and serves, as Schlacks intended, to delineate the architectural unit of the chancel as well as to set off the other white marble furnishings of the sanctuary and the white marble pulpit which was installed in 1916. The marble floors, too, were installed in 1916. And not to be missed is the Arts and Crafts style sedile (presider‚s chair) designed to complement the Gothic church.

In the walls of the interior, Schlacks plays off rows of circle shapes against the Gothic arches to lead the eye in horizontal lines that counterbalance the soaring verticality of the walls and thus create a feeling of anchored weight in the lower church. It was not until 1922, however, that the parish was able to start carrying out Schlacks‚s original 1897 plans for the 2,500 square feet of gold and polychrome mosaic whose warmth and color play against the somber russet monotones of the interior brick. Commissioned by the then pastor Father Leonard Schlim to oversee the work, Schlacks selected the Cav. Angelo Gianese Company in Venice, Italy to execute his ambitious and intricate design. The largest piece of glass used in the design measures no more than one-half inch square. Shipped to Chicago already fitted together to be installed by John Martin in 1930, the chancel arch mosaics feature portraits of the twelve apostles with a portrait of Christ at the top; the reflections of light from these mosaics effectively play up the beveled angle of the arch and contribute to the perception of plasticity and three-dimensionality of the interior.

The Venetian mosaics add to the color already supplied by F. X. Zettler Munich windows which depict scenes from the life of Christ in the front of the church and scenes from  the life of the church's patron St. Paul in the back. Nor may we forget the color added to the church by the German parishioners themselves when they gathered for festivals with the colored banners of their sodalities and the costumes of their villages of origin. It was for these German-speaking immigrants that Father Emmerich Weber had founded the parish in 1876. While these immigrants lived south of 18th street and west of the river, their hard-working men labored in the lumber yards east of the parish. The next pastor Father George Heldmann, to whom Chicago owes this masterpiece of a church, so outstripped the parish‚s working-class resources in his eagerness to proceed apace with his building project that he was removed for failing to file the 1903 financial report. The Archdiocese then handed the parish over to the care of the Benedictine fathers who slowly and gradually completed the work the eager Heldmann had been unable to finance earlier in the century.

ALTERATIONS AND LOSSES

The German rood (large crucifix) which originally hung in the sanctuary as a dominant element in true Gothic fashion has been taken down and placed in the vestibule where its polychrome finish has begun to wear away from the caressing hands of parishioners.

Two smaller towers and some Gothic ornament has been removed from the exterior and the original crosses on the high towers have been replaced.

A flèche that hung from the ceiling of the crossing are gone. Crockets and finials are also gone.

The original red tile roof and the original drainage system is gone.

The original chandeliers are gone.

Areas of the nave vaulting over the side aisles have suffered water damage.

Areas of the exterior brick have suffered acid-rain damage.
 
 


Saint Adalbert Church
1912-1914
1656 West 17th Street
Telephone (312) 226 0343

Style: Roman Basilica
Seating: 1,900

Twin 185-foot Renaissance-style towers with copper cupolas complete the façade of this imposing buff-colored basilica which rises above the smaller buildings of the old Pilsen neighborhood. One enters through a shallow portico with eight massive grey-flecked, rose-colored polished granite columns, from there to pass through a narrow vestibule with four large recessed fonts in its back wall, and finally to enter the basilica‚s immense main body where one finds the most magnificent marble work to be found in any church in Chicago.

A stern large white-marble statue of the church‚s patron St. Adalbert, the evangelizer of Poland and tenth-century Archbishop of Gnesen, stares down from the massive and elaborate thirty-five ton Cararra marble altar whose ten spiral pillars are capped with a dome-shaped civory. On the chancel arch above the altar are inscribed the opening words of the Polish hymn Bogu-Rodzica which Adalbert himself is said to have composed. And in an F. X. Zettler window to the west, Adalbert again, in green vestments, stands preaching to the surly, slumped King of Prussia, an unwilling listener whose response would be to martyr Adalbert. Legend says that the Prince of Poland Boleslas I ransomed back Adalbert‚s body by paying its weight in gold.

The original balustered white-marble altar rail complements the white marble of the many-tiered altar behind and above it and serves the additional aesthetic purpose of visually reinforcing the line made by the pilasters which demark the north wall. The altar rail also complements the original high, white marble pulpit. Square and elaborately carved with large figures of the four evangelists on its corners and smaller figures of the six prophets on its sides, it rises west of the sanctuary against one of the ponderous beige-and-grey marble pillars with gold capitals that line the nave on either side. The white- marble side altars have paintings of Our Lady and St. Joseph respectively instead of the more customary statues. The original east transept marble shrine holding the Pièta (once matched by a similar shrine in the west transept) is still intact.

The mural on the upper portion of the north wall above the sanctuary portrays on the left the wedding of Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Prince Jagiello of Lithuania and on the right the 1655 victory of Our Lady of Czestochowa when by the Virgin's intervention an army of 9,000 invading Swedes failed to take a monastery held by only 250 monks. The predominant muted orange-red tones of the mural are repeated in the present color of the ambulatory wall and also in the ceiling coffers and panels of the clerestory. Although these panels and coffers are painted in this solid color today, it is possible that they were originally intended for murals such as the large ones of St. Francis and St. Anthony in the west transept and the others of various subjects that have been completed in the panels around the main lower body of the church.

The pews retain their period-authentic molasses-dark varnish; both their finish and their classical broken-curve top ornamentation matches that of the original confessionals in the east transept. On the south (or entrance) end of the church rises a spectacular two-story choir loft with curving ranges of organ pipes on either side and a rose window of St. Cecilia in the center. The aisle floors are a handsome inlay of sections of red, black, and gray terrazzo .

The parish of St. Adalbert has seen many changes in the surrounding area since it was founded in 1874 to serve the needs of the Chicago Poles. This mother church of all the later Polish parishes on the West and South sides now welcomes the many Mexicans of the Pilsen neighborhood and has Spanish-language Masses as well as Polish-language Masses. A shrine of the Mexican patroness Our Lady of Guadalupe bears witness to the Mexican presence. The church itself has become the gift of the Poles not just to the people of the surrounding area but to all of Chicago. It is truly a city treasure.

ALTERATIONS AND LOSSES

Several rows of pews have been removed from the back, truncating Schlacks‚s long processional aisle. The floor where the pews were removed has been patched with vinyl tile that attempts to match the pattern and colors of the surrounding tan and black terrazzo  floor.

The original nave chandeliers are gone.

The original brass communion gate is gone.

The west transept shrine has been truncated to accommodate a new baptistry.

A large polychrome rood (crucifix) which may have originally hung in the sanctuary has been placed in the remaining portion of the west transept shrine to which has been added a false back to bring the surface out to meet the back of the crucifix.
 
 


 

Saint Ita
1924-1927
5500 N. Broadway
Telephone: (773) 561 5343

Style: French Gothic
Seating: 500

Although in this period of his life Henry Schlacks most often worked in the Renaissance style, he designed St. Ita‚s in French Gothic at the specific request of Cardinal Mundelein who unlike previous archbishops maintained strict quality control by reserving to himself the approval of all the new churches erected in his diocese. The M shapes in the parapet at the top of this Indiana limestone church are in Mundelein‚s honor.

While using a basically French Gothic idiom, Schlacks introduces certain features at St. Ita‚s which make its style uniquely American Gothic Revival: one example of this style is the asymmetrically-placed single side tower with its side entrance. The lacy, open, flamboyant stonework of this single tower provides a foretaste of what one will see within. After entering by the porch (once open but now glassed in for security), one climbs the steps which, unlike most church steps, are inside the shelter of the porch. As one begins to climb, one can see straight ahead at the opposite end of the church the large, splendidly-colored window which Schlacks specially designed to serve as the reredos behind the altar. Like the façade, this window illustrates Schlacks‚s uniquely American Gothic Revival transmutation of older medieval Gothic forms. Medieval Gothic windows had typically used many small pictures to create an abstract pattern. But as one walks down the center aisle and gradually draws closer to the reredos window, it becomes clear that what at first appears to be merely a swirling abstract pattern is in actuality one large picture: namely a scene of the Crucifixion consisting entirely of figures, twenty-eight in all, excluding the angel in the upper window. The fifteenth-century Flemish-style figures, including eleven hovering angels, fill the entire picture space like the pieces of a puzzle, leaving not a bit of non-figural background. The turquoise color of Christ‚s halo is a device to make the head of Christ stand out, for the halo is the only portion of the window to use that color. The present décor uses turquoise in the walls thereby further emphasizing with good effect the color of the halo behind Christ's head.

Using Istrian stone from the Northern Adriatic, Schlacks designed the altar to overlap the reredos window and thus to produce the layered look which is a distinguishing stylistic feature of more than one of Schlacks' Gothic churches. High above the altar and the reredos window the vaulting of the apse glitters with gold leaf over which are stenciled vines in the manner of A.W. N. Pugin, one of the pioneers of the Gothic Revival style. The scalloped and quadrefoiled stonework ornamentation above the arcades of the nave may have been originally intended for gilding, too, though such a program was never carried out. So, too, the blank arcades over the side altars may have originally been intended by Schlacks for murals or for abstract decorations.

Schlacks offsets the French verticality of the soaring nave by means of the unusually high, fumed-oak wainscoting which lends an appearance of weight and solidity to the lower portion of the nave. The intricately-carved upper edge of this wainscoting forms a horizontal band which is continued at a slightly higher level in the sanctuary by means of the horizontal, carved upper edge of the white marble altar, an upper edge which uses a variation of the motif used in the wainscoting‚s upper edge.

The carved upper edge of the oak wainscoting on either side of the nave is punctuated by a series of six carved-oak canopies each of which contains hidden illumination for the painted Feurstein station of the cross beneath it. On the wall above each station-canopy is a white Cararra marble statue of one of the twelve apostles. Each statue is in turn positioned under the cluster formed by the bottom ends of the ribbing of the ceiling. The repeated vertical pattern formed by each set of station canopy, apostle statue, and ribbing-cluster integrates the horizontal line of the wainscoting into the predominant verticality of the nave.

When the original pastor Father John Crowe founded the parish, he chose as its patron Saint Ita who in the sixth century had founded a school and convent in Killeedy, County Limerick, Ireland near his boyhood home. Her white-marble statue stands in the altar retable and her image also appears in the first window on the south. Because she was the friend of St. Patrick, his image has been placed in the first north window opposite hers. The south windows of the Old Testament and the north windows of the New Testament, patterned after those of Chartres, are an example of the medieval style of window in which multiple small pictures make up an abstract geometric pattern. That there is a pictorial element in the window is not apparent at a distance. It may be seen that the large reredos window over the altar is in a transitional style: this window, as was mentioned before, appears abstract when seen from the distance of the length of the nave and only gradually becomes seen as one overall picture as one approaches closer. Thus the reredos window blends the abstract design of the medieval type of window with the one large picture of the Gothic Revival style. In a sense it is at once both medieval Gothic and Gothic Revival.

All the windows in the church, including the façade rose window patterned after that of Notre Dame de Paris, were executed from Schlacks‚s designs by Maumejean Frères of France out of over 200,000 individuals bits of glass. The red-brown, black, and gold-colored ceramic tile floor was also imported from France. The sacristy floor, however, is not tile but white Cararra marble with insets of yellow Sienna marble. Black Belgian marble was used for the altar steps. The uncarpeted tile and marble floors produce a reverberant acoustical environment conducive to successful congregational singing. The original high pulpit remains on the south and above it a pointed hood; opposite the pulpit on a pillar on the north side hangs a dark crucifix carved of pear wood.

In 1900 when the parish was founded the Edgewater district was sparsely settled. By mid-century celebrity guests from the nearby old Edgewater Beach Hotel, whose pink building then fronted on the lake, frequented St. Ita's: football players, artists, musicians, and politicians attended church services there while they were in town. Today the parish has the largest Cuban congregation of any church in Chicago. In the back of the church is a replica of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba, which was a gift of the people of Cuba to the people of Chicago in 1975. The parish keeps a large festival in honor of this Cuban patron on September 8. It was to the Virgin of Charity at the original shrine in Cuba that Ernest Hemingway presented his gold medal for his 1954 Nobel prize; an account of his presentation of the medal to the shrine and a replica of the medal may be viewed at the Hemingway Museum at 200 N. Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park.

ALTERATIONS, LOSSES, AND ADDITIONS

Six pews in back have been removed leaving a gaping area of light-colored floor and truncating the long processional aisle which was intended to function visually as a pair of receding lines to lead the eye to their point of convergence at the altar.

The original baptismal font has been removed from the baptistry and used to make a tabernacle set off-center in the north sanctuary.

The carved front of the original Schlacks main altar has been removed and used to make the second altar now used for services.

Only two segments of the delicately-carved original marble altar rails remain at either end of the sanctuary. The center portions are gone and their brass gate has been moved to the north shrine.

Two of the ornately-carved original fumed-oak confessionals remain while a third confessional has been altered to make a shrine for the statuary group of the Virgen de la Caridad.

The nave columns of Bedford stone have been marred by holes left by removed hardware.
 
 


Saint Mary of the Lake
1913-1917
4200 N. Sheridan
Telephone: (773) 472 3711

Style:  Roman Basilica
Seating:  800

At the time St. Mary of the Lake parish was founded in the Uptown district, Lake Michigan came up to Sheridan Road and the church overlooked the shoreline. Within the church the painting in the south side-altar shrine depicts the Virgin Mary under her patronal title with the lake in the background and on its shore a campanile with four tiers, each one successively taller than the one below it. This campanile in the painting depicts the actual seven-belled campanile of the church, a neighborhood landmark which one can see from a distance as one drives or walks down Sheridan Road. Henry J. Schlacks had been visiting Rome when he first saw the original of this campanile at the Church of St. Pudentiana and, struck by its picturesqueness, decided to replicate it for Saint Mary of the Lake Church which he was about to design. Not only did he replicate the free-standing bell tower, but he used its series of triple Romanesque arches as the basis for his design of the church façade which repeats the triple-arch motif over the five Romanesque arches of its portico. He used a modified form of the arch again in the spokes of the rose window of the facade. The total effect is one of pleasing unity.

The inside of the church, which took nine years to complete, is notable for its numerous murals by the Chicago artist Thomas. Murals decorate the panels which alternate between every two windows of the clerestory. Especially effective are the two large murals in the large cross-shaped coffers of the flat ceiling which show dramatically foreshortened figures of Christ and the Virgin respectively, their feet appearing closer to the viewer than their heads as they rise into the clouds. Noteworthy, too, is the mural on the front upper wall above the apse which depicts on a grand scale the Last Judgment with the figures of the damned to Christ's left and the figures of the saved to Christ's right. And above the nave arcade is a marvelous painted trompe d‚oeil wall decoration which from below appears to be in bas-relief but is in actuality as flat as an ironing board.

The original marble work by Ferdinando Palla of Pietrasanta, Italy includes the grand white Cararra marble high altar surmounted by a hemispheric carved-stone civory. Originally a balustered marble altar rail complemented the altar and served as an architectural delineation of the apse area and as a continuation of the line of the west wall demarked by the square pilasters. Segments of this original altar rail have been used for the present sanctuary benches. Totally gone, however, is the original white Cararra marble pulpit that was attached to a south, front pillar and which was ornately carved with scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

When one first enters the church, the colored painted-glass F. X. Zettler Munich windows in the side aisles are mostly invisible from the main entrance, being blocked by the massive Corinthian columns. When one walks down the side aisle one can view them at close range only one by one. Thus each window in turn is like a separate shrine which contributes an element of surprise and discovery as one walks from the rear to the front of the church.

The stations of the cross are not copies but original paintings done in Rome about 1900 by an unknown artist. For many years obscured by layers of yellowed varnish, they have been restored by Chicago artist Joseph Ramirez who painstakingly removed the old varnish by hand.

Today the parish has not only German, Irish, and Slav parishioners but also Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Indian, and Haitian parishioners who contribute the richness of their own cultures while they enjoy the beauty of the church left by the  original members of the parish. The parish is the residence of an auxiliary bishop.

ALTERATIONS, LOSSES AND ADDITIONS

The original marble baptismal font has been removed from the original baptistry in the ground floor of the campanile and is now used as the base for the new front altar.

The original tile floor is covered with carpet.

Two rows of pews have been removed from the front and several rows from the back truncating Schlacks' long processional aisle.

The carved original doors have been removed from the original confessionals and the inside of each confessional converted to other uses.

The original pulpit of Cararra marble which was elaborately carved with scenes of the life of St. Francis of Assisi has been removed.
 
 


 

Saint Edmund Church
1908-1910
188 South Oak Park Avenue
Oak Park, Illinois 60302
Telephone (708) 848-4417

Style: 14th century English Gothic
Seating:  500

In his design for St. Edmund Church in Oak Park, Schlacks transmuted a basic fourteenth-century English Gothic style into a uniquely American Gothic Revival mode. Schlacks‚s use of asymmetry in the façade and the narthex of St. Edmund's illustrates how Gothic Revival architects transformed and developed the Gothic style. The single south tower with its side entrance is unpaired by any corresponding tower or entrance on the north side. Such judicious exterior asymmetry by Schlacks and other ecclesiastic architects parallels the new use of asymmetry in local domestic architecture by proto-Prairie School architects E. E. Roberts and George Washington Maher.

Above the Oak Park Avenue entrance of the crenellated Bedford stone church rises a  Galilee porch top whose two spires and a cross deliberately overlap the façade window behind to produce a layered look which prepares the eye for the interior of the church. When one enters the highly symmetrical main body of the church, one sees this layered look repeated. One's eye is immediately pulled by the receding horizontal lines of the long processional aisle to the high, white Cararra marble "wedding cake" altar at the east end. Like the spired and cross-topped stone work of the porch, the high altar is deliberately designed to overlap the Crucifixion reredos window behind it. Here again one sees the Gothic layered look.

This high Gothic altar was installed by the founding pastor, Boston-born Msgr. John J. Code in 1947, a time of post-war economic boom. The new altar replaced an earlier, less costly altar which also overlapped the window and which dated to the period the church was built, a period of economic depression which, according to Code, rivaled the Great Depression. The two tall spires of the custom-designed altar were designed to frame the reredos window of the Crucifixion while the top border between the altar's spires was designed to form a continuous visual line with the horizontal molding of the apse wall behind the altar.

Schlacks carried the overlapping, layered motif into the large F. X. Zettler painted-glass Munich windows which dominate the nave. Here, each Gothic Revival pictorial window imitates an altar reredos. This effect of an altar reredos is achieved by surrounding the central picture portion of each window with an overlapping frame-like design which simulates Gothic carved-marble spires, niches, and pedestals such as one might see on a  Gothic marble high altar. Only in the apse do the windows lack this simulated carved marble on their outer edges, for in the apse the actual carved marble of the altar itself serves to frame and complement the apse windows, rendering any painted-on-glass simulation of altar marble superfluous. This studied contrast between real marble and pictured marble effectively challenges the viewer‚s too-willing suspension of disbelief. Thus in the nave windows Schlacks presents us with Romantic illusionism only to abruptly check this illusionism with a deliberately anti-Romantic intrusion of reality: he places an actual marble altar only a few yards away from the pictured altar marble. In Schlacks‚s Gothic Revival vision art is always consciously art and is not intended to be  Romantically confused with the reality it imitates.

The spectacular Zettler windows proceed clockwise around the church beginning with the Nativity window to the right of the main altar. They follow not chronological order but the order of the Sunday gospels and the major feasts of the liturgical calendar.Thus the March 25 Annunciation window in the north apse comes after the Maundy Thursday Last Supper window in the north transept but before the Easter Resurrection window in the apse. The Resurrection window and the Crucifixion window in the apse are the only windows in the sequence out of liturgical order having been deliberately reversed by Schlacks so that the Crucifixion window may serve as the requisite altar reredos. The two extra-large windows of the Last Supper and the Epiphany in either transept function as a focal counterpoint to the primary focus on the apse, a interesting type of strong counterpoint that appears neither in St. Paul‚s nor St. Ita‚s. One finds this same type of focal counterpoint in the domestic architecture of the proto-Prairie School architects.

One of the relatively few Gothic churches in the Chicago area to be properly oriented in the genuine Gothic fashion, St. Edmund‚s apse faces east, the direction of the biblical new Jerusalem and of the rising sun which floods the apse windows during morning services. Thus the church's orientation in no small measure reinforces the primary architectural focus on the apse. Schlacks' eastward-facing pews, as well as the more ornate décor of the apse, make it exceptionally clear that the sanctuary apse is the primary focal point of the interior. This focus is further accentuated by the row of four pillars and by the chancel arch which demark the outer edge of the apse. The chiming Latin words on the arch translate the exclamation of Jacob in the book of Genesis after his dream of angels on a ladder to heaven: Hic est domus dei et porta coeli: "Truly this is an awesome place: this is the house of God and the gate of heaven." These words recapitulate the focal intent of the architecture.

During the post-World War II years of prosperity, pastor Code was able not only to purchase the new twelve-ton main altar, but also to extend into the naves and transepts the same type of Gothic Revival polychrome stenciling over 23-carat gold leaf that had long adorned the sanctuary walls and ceiling. For this work he hired John A. Mallin who executed the decorations in the Arts-and-Crafts manner inspired by A. W. N. Pugin, the pioneer of the English Gothic Revival movement. The English Gothic architecture with its lower ceiling particularly lends itself to this style of decoration. The vermilion and cobalt-blue color scheme of the sanctuary, the star-and-vine patterns in the transept ceilings, the stylized grape and grape-leaf pattern in blue over gold on the sanctuary wall, and the many ceiling medallions are all in the Puginesque tradition. Restored by Mallin, the 1920 paintings by John F. Sturdy of Christ the High Priest flanked by Aaron and Melchisedech may still be seen high in the upper apse. The gold-leafed vaulting, ribs, and walls, together with the gold scagliola pillars, provide a mellow foil for the brightly-colored windows much as a gold setting shows off a gemstone.

The pastor‚s choice of St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury for the parish patron signaled a new stage of development in the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese, namely the movement away from the ethnic parish. Although pastor Code and the majority of his parishioners had Irish blood, he nevertheless named the church not for an Irish saint but for an English one as if to announce to the world that, invited or uninvited, the parish was planning to enter into the mainstream of the dominant culture. As the first Catholic church in predominantly Protestant Oak Park, St. Edmund's paved the way for other suburban parishes which would likewise break the social barriers that then existed.

ALTERATIONS AND LOSSES

The original dark-green and white tile has been covered with carpet and vinyl tile.

The original baptismal font has been moved from the baptistry in the north narthex to the sanctuary. The gold marble cross with white marble edge that once adorned the lid is missing.

The bottom portion of the north transept window has been removed to make an annex.

One north nave window is blocked from the daylight.

Large white-marble statues of St. Peter and Jesus, the Sacred Heart were removed from the sanctuary and replaced with the present bas-reliefs on the sanctuary pillars.

The white Gothic side altars of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are gone, and their marble statues placed elsewhere.

Two matching confessionals of carved oak that formerly occupied the space below each of the two large transept windows have been removed.
 
 




Henry J. Schlacks  1868-1938

Born in Chicago of German parents in 1868, Henry J. Schlacks studied at MIT, apprenticed at the offices of Adler and Sullivan, and eventually went on to become the first Director of the Course of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. Schlacks was a skilled practitioner, developer, and teacher of the American Gothic school of architecture pioneered by Ralph Adams Cram in the United States after the revivalist example of Viollet-le-Duc in France and A. W. N. Pugin in England. Schlacks introduced a German element into this school, going to Germany to study the churches of the Moselle Valley and the work of Johannes Otzen of Berlin. Traveling through Europe, Schlacks saturated himself in its church architecture and mastered its rich vocabulary of forms. In addition to learning the Gothic style he also became proficient in the Roman Renaissance style, his favorite.

The Gothic Revival movement in which Schlacks participated moved counter to the  mainstream of Victorian architecture and décor which was characterized by its diffuse foci and illusionistic naturalism. The counter-cultural aesthetics of the Gothic Revival movement led up to and inspired the Arts and Crafts movement. And the principles of both movements profoundly influenced the incipient new Prairie School of architecture. The interior vistas of E. E. Roberts and George Washington Maher with their careful subordination of lesser parts to a single dominant focus are derived in no small way from Gothic Revival vistas with their long main aisle and dominant focus on the sanctuary and with their subordinate foci in the transepts.

The historicist modes in which Schlacks worked did not simply replicate or imitate traditional forms. Rather these modes represented an evolving style in its own right and with its own unique developments. Like other practitioners of American Gothic, Schlacks re-combined the traditional architectural vocabulary into both bold and subtle permutations of the older forms of the style. Asymmetry and pictorial windows are two of these permutations. Schlacks' buildings punctuate the Chicago cityscape, stunning, though neglected, examples of superb architecture.

His churches have been the victims not only of neglect but of ecclesiastical fads which  impose themselves on existing architecture with little regard for its inner logic. Site-specific furnishings are moved or removed entirely, destroying the intended sight lines so integral to his style. Today the masterly aesthetic unity of Schlacks' churches is as much imperiled by ill-considered renovations as by vandalism or neglect.

Copyright © 1999  Annunciation Society
Box 214 , Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.A. 60303-0214

Published with permission by the HENRY J. SCHLACKS SOCIETY
111 N. Marion, Oak Park,  IL  60301

 


Link to John Mallin Site, artistic collaborator with Henry Schlacks