Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church was started in 1905 when the first services were held in a Clark Street meeting hall. Bethany may well have been the first English-speaking Lutheran church in the Edgewater area, and this helped it become successful. The growing congregation signed a lease in 1906 on a storefront at 2561 Evanston Avenue (now 5540 N. Broadway). They purchased chairs for six dollars a dozen and a janitor was hired “at a fee of four dollars per month for summer and six dollars per month for winter.”
Bethany’s families worshipped at this storefront for the next two years. Much of Edgewater still had dirt and sand streets and wooden sidewalks, but Evanston Avenue was paved with brick and lit by streetlights. Use of telephones and electricity had become commonly accepted by well to do families at this time.
In 1908 the Bible Chapel, now the school facility, was built. The architects were Patton and Miller for this building, which was erected and furnished at a cost of $14,500. The entrance faces Thorndale and the style is English Gothic. This new, larger church building helped increase membership substantially in the following years. By 1911, the congregation was well-established.
In June 1912 the church bulletin had a brief notice: “The Special Congregation Meeting held on May 3 was attended by 24 members. In this meeting it was decided to build.”
The members hired architect Grant C. Miller to design the enlarged church with a bell tower. The permit was taken out in March of 1913. The building is an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts movement in the beautiful craftsmanship of the interior wood and stained glass as well as the strong architectural design.
The overall massing of the main church has a very low and heavy appearance. This is made more dramatic with the wide shallow pointed arches above windows, a large low gabled roof over the church nave and a wide tower belfry with hipped roof that punctuates to corner of Thorndale and Magnolia. All of the roofs are topped with clay tile.
The Arts and Crafts movement was popular in America from about 1900 through 1930. The movement was a reaction to industrialization and took much of its inspiration from antecedents in England. Characteristic of the style is the honest and straightforward use of materials.
The primarily structure is load bearing brick with stone detailing. This structure is given character by its massiveness and the quality of materials and construction. The only “ornament” on the building is found in the carefully detailed masonry. The brickwork is a plain running bond with flush mortar. This is accented with deep gauged arches above a variety of window openings and remarkable gauged arches creating a sunburst form across the top belfry openings. A flared stone water table forms a dramatic base for the building. The remaining stonework on the building mimics post and beam construction with stone accents that protrude along the eaves of the building, as seen from Thorndale Avenue, and stone accents that protrude at the corners of each windowsill. This stone work is also seen in the corner tower, forming brackets at the corners above the first floor and cruciform capitol forms at the top of each tower corner.
The heavy solid building structure is a counterpoint to the delicate and intricately detailed art glass windows. The windows are highly geometric and are composed primarily vertically arranged rectilinear pieces of multi-colored glass. Bands of glass arranged in foliate forms run horizontally across each window. Their design is reminiscent of typical art glass being created by other Prairie School architects at this time.
Later additions to the site include the parsonage built in 1920 and designed by architect G.E. Pearson and the second parsonage in 1928, designed by E.F. Dowling.
Thanks to the pastor, Rev. Paul M. Dobberstein, and church member Barbara Strauss for their help in setting up this tour.