Unity Lutheran Church
The sanctuary at Unity was designed by Ivar Viehe-Naess in 1916. Viehe-Naess was a member of the congregation and had designed the original 1906 “Sunday School Chapel” immediately adjacent to this building.
Born in Nord-Osen in Oesterdalen, Norway in 1870, Viehe-Naess grew up in close proximity to church architecture. The parish church and school were located on the Naess farm. His mother’s brother was a prosperous builder in Oslo. He heard of the plans for the great Columbian Exposition and decided to go to Chicago in 1891 in order, he said, “that I might be well acquainted with the place before the great celebration.”
In the fall of 1892, Viehe-Naess entered the Chicago School of Architecture. After three years of study, he went to work as a draftsman and continued designing interiors until 1897, when he went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1900, Viehe-Naess joined the firm of Daniel Burnham, where he remained until 1912. During that period, he worked on several of Burnham’s larger projects, including the Flat Iron building in New York.
Viehe-Naess’s American churches are all in the same neo-gothic style as Unity. Among his other church designs were Buena Presbyterian, Rogers Park Presbyterian, North Austin Lutheran Church and Christ Lutheran Church (Wilson at Spaulding). Other buildings designed by Viehe-Naess include the Lakeview and South Chicago Banks, the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital and the Elmhurst Hospital.
The original design of Unity included a tower over the corner entryway, extending an additional 33 feet above the existing ramparts. This tower was designed to hold a ring of bells but was not completed.
The sanctuary was remodeled in 1940, again under Viehe-Naess’s supervision. The baptismal font, the pulpit and lectern prayer bench and the communion rail were built to his specifications. Viehe-Naess was a member of Unity and a member of both the 1906 and the 1916 building committees. General contractor for the 1916 construction was Robert Christiansen, also a member of the congregation.
The stained glass windows were installed in September of 1948, at which time the altar painting and two large decorative angels which adorned the chancel wall were removed. The altar, Cristus Rex and the completion of the reredos were done in 1953 by the John Toiler studio in Palatine.