The First Christian Church Building
The cornerstone of the present church building was laid in 1911. By the time the new building was under construction, the active membership had grown from 350 to over 1,000. The original plans for the church show it very much as it appears today, except for the bell tower and the new office and chapel on the south side of the original building. The design is known as the “Akron Plan” and is one of many such churches which were built across the nation. The original cost of the building, $75,000, was reduced by $1,000 when the contractor was unable to fix a leak in the dome.
One of the most impressive features of the church is its stained glass windows which may be found in every part of the original structure including the Sunday School and meeting rooms. The Sanctuary windows depict the story of the Christ in Gothic style, reproducing several famous paintings. The foyer glass continues portraits of the disciples. These windows are highly acclaimed works of art by Povey Brothers of Portland. The windows located on the west side of the church were taken from the previous building and were made about 1897. Another notable feature in the Sanctuary is the extensive use of moldings in the pillars, ceiling and rotunda. These moldings are plaster cast which is considered a lost art.
The Dedication Service for the new building was led by a nationally known evangelist, Dr. Charles Reign Scoville. He and his team conducted services through November 12, 1911. According to the Eugene-Register Guard, Dr. Scoville delivered an elegant dedicatory sermon at the Christian Church “to the largest audience ever gathered in a house of worship in Eugene.” The church was “packed” and he talked “until 2 pm.”??In 1913, the Estey pipe organ was added at a cost of $1,300 and Effie McCallum was retained as organist. Records show her salary was later raised from $5 per month to $13 per month.
The bell tower and Deagan chimes, now an integral part of Eugene, were installed in 1926. They were dedicated in the memory of many; one of whom was Ray Goodrich, by his daughter, Martha, who was an active member of this congregation until her death in 1996. The Deagan Company went out of business in 1957 after building over 400 sets of chimes which are to this day still considered the finest tower chimes ever made. Nearly three-fourths of these fine instruments have either fallen into disrepair or have been replaced with electronic systems.
Between 1949 and 1959, under Dr. Carroll C. Roberts’ ministry, there was an extensive remodeling in the west wing of the church. This eliminated “the pit,” antique lighting fixtures, and the old-fashioned heating stove. A lovely chapel and furniture were provided and the baptistry dressing rooms were remodeled. The sanctuary was redecorated and the stained glass windows were cleaned, re-leaded and strengthened where necessary. During this time, there is a story about a pillar blowing off the chimes tower. Dr. Roberts climbed up the tower and held some of the chimes in place until help arrived. One pillar plunged to the sidewalk.
In 1977-78, the handbell choir was formed. The Bells were donated as memorials. English Handbells have become quite popular in the United States. They have become an important addition to the worship services at First Christian.
During the 1980 remodeling, antique chairs and a minister’s desk from the old church at 11th and Willamette were found in the attic. They, along with antique light fixtures, are on display in the History Room. The Sanctuary was painted by Eric Albertson with colors coordinated with those of the stained glass windows. About this time, the Estey Pipe Organ was rebuilt using many of the existing ranks of pipe, but also adding several new ranks. A new console was installed which was movable to different locations in the Sanctuary. The original organ console is now located in the History room.
In 1992 a master plan for long term needs of the congregation was completed and a new roof for the dome was installed, making that winter the first in 81 years without a leak. Structural flaws and water damage to the bell tower were fixed in an expansive renovation in 1995 thanks to a sizeable gift from the estate of Grace and Victor Morris. The tower was dedicated in their name on July 9, 1995. The chimes were refurbished in the spring of 1997 and once again ring on the quarter-hour throughout the day.
The chapel was remodeled in the winter of 1997. Renovations included an extension of the stage area, new chairs for dynamic seating arrangements, new paint and carpet. It was rededicated Grace Chapel on April 27, 1997 in honor of Grace Morris.
First Christian Church has long been recognized as one of the truly historic buildings of Eugene, though the congregation has declined to place it on the registry of historic buildings. A Permanent Building Fund was established in 1994 to provide for long-term care of this historical treasure.
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