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Note from Pastor Peters: Bridget Burianek wrote the following as a term paper for a graduate course in Gothic Revival which she took under Prof. William Morgan, University of Louisville, in 1990. We thank her for giving permission to print it. I thank Jackie DeRudder and Cherie Ade for preparing the manuscript. I am responsible for some light editing. Appended to the paper are several pictures, many of which were also attached to Bridget’s paper.

April, 1990

Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was the most important figure in the development of American ecclesiastical architecture at the turn of the century. Cram is noted not only for his architectural designs of various styles but also for his work as a theorist and writer. He wrote two dozen books and scores of articles and lectures which proved to be very influential in the field of modern Gothic church building and Christian thought. Among his numerous accomplishments, he was a founder of the Medieval Academy of America, served as Head of the School of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as Supervising Architect to Princeton University (figs. 1-3). He designed over seventy churches, including the immense Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (figs. 4-6) and the elegant Saint Thomas Church (fig. 7) in New York City. It was Ralph Adams Cram that also designed the smaller Concordia Lutheran Church in Louisville, Kentucky (figs. 8-9).

Concordia, initially known as the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church, is strikingly different in appearance as well as size in comparison with the New York churches. It is in the "country chapel style," a category determined by Cram in his book, Church Building, that really forces the architect to deal with the bare essentials of his building philosophy. When only the minimal features can be included in a church, what should be kept or omitted? In order to maintain a sense of dignity, permanence and reverence, one must have a keen sense of the visual and emotional impact put forth by the structure in its finished form. Cram demonstrated this ability and vision when developing and constructing Concordia Lutheran Church in 1928-1930. There are many contributing factors to Cram’s ideology influencing the development of Concordia.

Cram, originally from New Hampshire, moved to Boston in 1881 to begin an apprenticeship with the architectural firm of Rotch and Tilden at the age of eighteen. After five years with the firm, his only professional training as an architect, Cram left for Rome. This trip was to play a decisive role in his future. It was there that Cram, the son of a Unitarian minister, converted to the Anglican church. 1 His religious beliefs became an integral part of his perception of the church as an establishment and as a structure. Cram stated, "Art in all its varied forms--may religion find at once its fullest expression and its most potent incentive." 2 Like Pugin in many ways, Cram’s incessant demand for Christian art stemmed from an archaeological study of medieval forms. Cram wanted to capture the medieval spirit endowed in the medieval churches and to adapt this into contemporary forms enabling him to add a more religious significance to his churches therefore giving them a heritage in pre-reformed England. On this trip abroad and the many others that followed, Cram’s knowledge of Gothic architecture grew. These forms served as models, the stepping blocks from which Cram’s churches developed. By using the essential forms of the medieval churches, he embellished his own designs with the connotations of the old.

The church of St. Tudon, Llandudno, Wales, included in Cram’s collection of photos, English Country Churches, reflects the design of Concordia with its emphasis on the massiveness of the wall (fig. 10). Cram’s design is much more refined, but the general outline of the facade, including the bell-cote in place of a western tower, is very similar. In Cram’s design the corners are defined by the angled buttresses. The deep set portal and central window utilized in the Louisville design soften the harshness of the immense wall space; however, the solidity of the wall is not lost. These added elements also aid in directing the viewer’s attention to the bell-cote, which is the main architectural feature of the facade. The bell-cote was also used in another of Cram’s country chapel designs, Calvary Episcopal Church in Americus, Georgia. Cram insists that "towers are impossible, unless the church is of good size." 3 In the Bishopstone Church, Seaford in Sussex, the simplicity of the nave wall punctuated only by single lancet windows also bears resemblance to Concordia (fig. 11).

Cram was also strongly influenced by other Gothic Revival architects in England and America. Bodley, Street, Pierson, Sedding and Vaughan were very influential in Cram’s adaptations of medieval forms into his contemporary structures. 4 John Sedding’s Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, London, illustrates the emphasis on the surface of the wall.5 In Henry Vaughan’s churches, the wall is again emphasized as a solid mass rather than a linear construction. The bell-cote that was discussed previously can also be found on a Vaughan church in Northeast Harbor, Maine, of 1905: Saint Mary’s-By-The-Sea (fig. 12). It was also through Henry Vaughan that Cram became acquainted with the work of the woodcarvers Irving and Casson. 6 In his efforts to revitalize the medieval craft firms, Cram, much like Morris, utilized these craftsmen throughout his career. In fact, the parclose screens for Concordia were originally to have been done by Irving and Casson, but the order was eventually canceled due to lack of funds. 7 The most recognizable feature found in both medieval and contemporary buildings that persisted in Cram’s work was the concept of the wall as a unifying and defining element. Cram wrote, "there is just one way to build a country chapel, and that is to build it as simply as possible and of as durable materials as may be obtained." 8 Other examples of Cram’s designs which reveal the subordination of all decorative elements to the surface of the wall can be found in the Northeast. These include Saint Paul’s in Yonkers, New York, and All Saints, Peterborough, in Cram’s home state, New Hampshire (fig. 13). Cram’s admiration for the country chapel’s simplicity is also evident by his inclusion of the Chapel of Saint Elizabeth on his estate in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Concordia Lutheran Church was founded as First German Evangelical Lutheran in Louisville on February 3, 1878. Fourteen years later the property on Broadway, where the church now stands, was purchased. A two-story building was constructed to hold the school and provide a place of worship. The building still exists and is connected with the Cram church on the southern end. The building campaign began in full earnest in 1926. Following several debates as to whether the congregation should purchase a new church or to build at their present location, it was finally decided to build two buildings on Broadway after acquiring bordering property. On December 17, 1928, it was agreed upon by the Building Committee to request the firm of Cram and Ferguson to design a church to seat 350-400 people and a small school of two rooms. 9

Concordia’s choice of Cram and Ferguson (Ferguson had died in 1926) seems to have originated with Pastor F. R. Webber of Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Carl Eberhard, pastor of Concordia from 1927 to 1975, received a letter from Webber, who must have been the authority on Lutheran church architecture, advising the Concordia congregation to approach an architect early and to get a good architect. 10 Later in the month, May, 1928, Dr. Eberhard visited Pastor Webber in Cleveland. While in Cleveland, he visited the architectural firm of Corbusier and Foster. It is also likely that he visited Cram’s church, Euclid Avenue Presbyterian Church (now the Church of the Covenant), 1907-08 (fig. 14). Probably of even greater interest to Eberhard was Grace Lutheran Church in Fremont, which was under construction, 1926-29.11 Eberhard, who kept meticulous records of the proceedings of the building campaign and construction, no doubt researched the architects well. Eberhard also had a chance to visit the two churches by the Cram firm in Lexington (one is questionably attributed to the firm) (fig. 15). Eberhard had sent for designs from several churches including New Trinity Church in Long Island. In June of 1929 Eberhard returned pictures he had requested from Trinity Lutheran Church in Schenectady, New York saying "we adopted Cram and Ferguson’s plan last night." 12

Cram and Ferguson were originally approached about the job in a letter dated December 9, 1928. This letter, signed by Eberhard for the Building Committee, was accompanied by a personal letter from Eberhard. Eberhard revealed to Cram that he had already read Church Building and was in the process of reading Substance of Gothic. Eberhard continues, "Louisville needs your work, the Lutheran Church as a whole needs more of your work."13 Eberhard’s persuasive and complimentary letter caught Ralph Adams Cram’s attention. Cram himself wrote Eberhard within a matter of days. Cram begins, "Talking of working miracles! However, by the grace of God and the generosity of local builders something may be accomplished." 14

A more detailed letter from Cram followed within a few days asking for details and listing fees --1% on the estimated cost for the drawings and if the building was constructed the firm would receive a 5% commission with another 2% to go to the associate architects that Cram would work through in Louisville. Further correspondence between the firm and the church was largely made by John A. Root of Cram and Ferguson and Carl Eberhard at Concordia. The contract was signed on April 17, 1929. Mr. Root came to Louisville on May 22, 1929, in order to explain the plans to the congregation. All other business between the two parties was conducted by mail. It was also established that the firm of Nevin, Morgan and Kolbrook, 1246 Starks Building, would serve as the associate architects and oversee the actual construction. The original plans for the church changed little but the exterior was originally to have been done in stucco and stone trim. After it was decided to eliminate the school building, the congregation felt it would be wise to switch to stone for the walls of the church. The minutes for December 29, 1929 show that the motion to build in stone carried and that it was their intention to build the best not the cheapest.15

Construction on the church began on March 3, 1930. The cornerstone was laid on April 27, 1930 at 2:30 in the afternoon. On May 10, the bill from Cram and Ferguson was received by Eberhard with the total amount due being $3,477.43. The grand total for the church building and insurance was calculated at $91,051.45. Although Eberhard strongly wished to have furnishings by Cram and Ferguson, the budget would not allow it. Furnishings were purchased from the Louisville Fixture Store. Pews came from the American Seating Company. A few things were also completed by a firm in Boston, such as the molded rail and cornice and the carved and pierced wood panels on the gallery front that conceal the heating and ventilating ducts. The simplicity of the furnishings compliment the graceful and serene quality of the church as a whole. In 1958 Dr. Eberhard showed his true commitment to Cram’s principles of architecture and the concept that each element forms an integral part of the whole. He completed, after fourteen years, the carvings on the lectern after Cram and Ferguson’s designs. 16

The long, narrow nave with a crossing transept has plenty of precedence in medieval and contemporary architecture. Cram’s true genius was in his refined sense of proportion. His role in the firm was "to do exterior perspectives, exterior and interior elevations, sections and floor plans." 17 The details of a building were always carried out by a designing partner. Bertram Goodhue filled this position from 1892 to 1914. After Goodhue left the firm, Frank Cleveland was largely responsible for the designs; however, Cram always maintained a close watch, at least on important commissions. Concordia virtually has no details; thus do we arrive at a church exclusively by Cram? It is a possibility. The proportions of Concordia are so "right" that it does not seem unlikely that Cram devised them. The subtleties of the building are numerous and they are typically Cram features which can almost be read straight out of Church Building. The one contrasting feature is the Pennsylvania slate roof. Slate is a material Cram refers to as "too hard and cold." 18 Cram may also have had a hand in the design of Concordia considering the designs were sent to the Synod meeting where they were displayed for all the church officials to see and with Pastor Webber there to push the development of more good architecture within the Lutheran Church. The church was featured in the Walther League Messenger, a Lutheran newsletter. Concordia was also featured in the Indiana Limestone Company’s advertisement in June, 1932.

On one’s first approach to Concordia, the solidity of the wall surface appears a little static. Then as one moves closer, the rough texture of the sawed limestone becomes more apparent and the effect is softened. As the corner is turned to approach the church from the entrance (the parking lot is on the west side), the deep portal and large stained-glass window continue the breakdown of the surface. The delicate bell-cote is emphasized by the lower arches and tapering buttresses flanking the doorway. The narthex ceiling is rather low, preparing the viewer for the surprisingly high ceiling of the nave. The nave (30’ wide) leads the viewer down the center of the church exposing more and more as the journey continues down the nave (98’ long). Windows which in 1930 were filled with leaded glass have all been replaced by exquisite stained glass designed by Charles J. Connick Associates, another of the craftsmen often used by Cram. The deep-set windows are revealed one at a time. The transept becomes visible in its entirety only when one stands before it. Each transept is accentuated by large windows resembling the southern window.

The interior surface is in white plaster with stone trim. The plaster was applied with a bricklayer’s trowel according to special instructions from Cram and Ferguson. The modeled effect eradicates any residual doubts about the sterility or coldness initially suggested by the inornate exterior. The pews directly in front of the chancel are set back about one and half feet, preparing for the transition. The rich, dark wood ceiling is lowered beyond the grand arch, which divides the nave and the chancel. Steps also help to make the transition. The niche placed in the wall to the left of the pulpit holds the baptismal font. The lectern is to the right of the pulpit. Behind the screen work in the transept ends are a choir area and an organ area. The two have since switched sides. The altar may be seen just beyond. This small church has a twenty-six foot deep chancel which maintains a more even, less cramped feeling throughout the church. With the individual elements hidden from the viewer initially, the focus is strongly placed on the chancel where the most elaborate decoration has been placed (much of it many years after the church was completed). The use of light and shadow originally served as the only means of decoration. This was not unusual for Cram, who was noted for using similar devices at All Saints Church, Dorcester. 19

The idea of pulling one further into the church, defining space with the play of light and leading one to the brilliance of the altar, where the church may be viewed in its entirety, brings back the concept of capturing the elusive medieval "spirit". The windows and woodcarvings added over a period of time contribute to this "spirit" by creating a sense of history and emotional attachment for the members of the congregation. A book listing all the contributions of the members of Concordia is displayed under the western transept window recalling to mind the cooperative venture of creating this center of worship. The description of the church made by Cram and Ferguson upon request by Dr. Eberhard used the words "intimate, personal and unpretentious" to form a link between Concordia and the "old parish churches of England with which it is comparable." 20

Ralph Adams Cram may have believed that taking up where the medieval builders left off under the rule of Henry VIII was the first step in re-establishing a tradition for Christian people, art and architecture. Cram stated, "There is no sound art--or civilization--that is not based on the long experience of man and established (not fixed) on these enduring foundations." 21 Unfortunately for Ralph Adams Cram, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoie was built the same year as Concordia Lutheran Church. The International style and Modernism were to dominate as an architectural style for the next half century. In 1935 Cram designed his skyscraper, the Boston Federal Building which was never to be built. 22 The void in ecclesiastical architecture was filled for a period of time by Ralph Adams Cram, but, when he died in 1942, Modern Gothic died with him.


1 Douglass Shand-Tucci, The Gothic Churches of Dorchester, Vol. 2 (Boston: Dorchester Savings Bank, 1973), p. 23.

2 Cram, R. A., Church Building (Boston: Small, Maynard and Co., 1914) p. 9.

3 Ibid., p. 22.

4 Ann Miner Daniel, "The Early Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram, 1889-1907, p. 110.

5 Ibid., p. 145.

6 Ibid., p. 163.

7 Carl Eberhard, Letter to Cram and Ferguson, August 2, 1930.

8 Cram, Church Building, p. 16.

9 Carl Eberhard, "A Historical Digest of the First German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation". n.p. n.d.

10 F. R. Webber, Letter to Carl Eberhard, May 21, 1928.

11 Daniel, p. 308.

12 Carl Eberhard, Letter to Karl Schleede of Trinity Lutheran Church, Schenectady, New York, June 6, 1929.

13 Carl Eberhard, Letter to Cram and Ferguson, December 19, 1928.

14 Cram, Letter to Carl Eberhard, December 21, 1928.

15 Building Committee Minutes from December 29, 1929.

16 Eberhard, "A Historical Digest".

17 Daniel, p. 12.

18 Cram, Church Building, p. 62.

19 Shand-Tucci, The Gothic Churches, p. 60

20 Cram and Ferguson, Letter to Concordia Lutheran Church, received February 21, 1931.

21 Cram, My Life in Architecture (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1936) p. 152.

22 Ibid., p. 257.


Building Committee of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minutes from August 21, 1928 to January 13, 1931. Concordia Lutheran Church papers. Louisville, Kentucky.

"Concerning Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson." Architectural Record, XXXIV (October, 1913), 383-384.

Cram, Ralph Adams. Church Building: A Study of the Principles of Architecture in their Relation to the Church. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co., 1914.

-------------. English Country Churches. Boston: Bates and Guild Co., 1898.

------------. Letter to Carl Eberhard. December 21, 1928. Papers of Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, Kentucky.

------------. Ministry of Art. Boston: Houghten Mifflin Co., 1914.

------------. My Life in Architecture. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1936.

------------. "Style in American Architecture," Architectural Record, XXXIV (September, 1913), 232-239.

Cram, Ralph Adams. Thomas Hastings and Claude Bragdon. Six Lectures on Architecture: The Scammon Lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago: Univ. Press, 1917.

Cram and Ferguson. Letter to Concordia Lutheran Church. Received February 21, 1931. Papers of Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, Kentucky.

Cram and Ferguson. Architects. NY: The Pencil Points Press, 1929.

Daniel, Ann Miner. "The Early Architecture of R. A. Cram, 1889-1907." Ph.D. Thesis. Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1978.

Eberhard, Carl. "A Historical Digest of the First German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation." n.p. n.d.

-------------, Letters to Cram and Fergurson. December 19, 1928 and August 2, 1930. Papers of Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, KY.

-------------, Letter to Karl Schleede of Trinity Lutheran Church, Schnectady, NY. June 6, 1929. Papers of Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, KY.

Falls of the Ohio Metropolitan Council of Governments. Preservation: Metropolitan Preservation Plan. May 1973.

"The Fourth St. Thomas Church," Architectural Record, CLV (April, 1974).

Hazlehurst, F. Hamilton, Jr. "An Introduction to the Architecture and Thought of Ralph Adams Cram." Paper submitted to the Dept. of Art and Archaeology Princeton Univ. for the Bachelor of Arts Degree, April 16, 1973.

Kennedy, Roger. American Churches. NY: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1982.

Knoll, Parker. (Pastor of Concordia). Personal Interview. April 12, 1990.

Macrae-Gibson, Gavin. "Reflections Upon the New Beginnings at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine," Architectural Record. CLXVI (November, 1979).

McGorry, Cletus. "A Ralph Adams Cram Church in Americus, Georgia," Southeastern College Art Conference Review. X, No. 5 (Spring, 1985).

The Messenger. (Concordia’s newsletter) II, No.4 (June, 1929).

Muccigrosso, Robert. American Gothics: the Mind and Art of Ralph Adams Cram. Washington: Univ. Press of America, 1980.

Schuyler, Montgomery, "The Works of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson," Architectural Record, XXIX, No.1 (January, 1911).

Shand-Tucci, Douglass. The Gothic Churches of Dorchester, vol.2. Boston: Dorchester Savings Bank, 1973.

------------, Ralph Adams Cram, American Medievalist. Boston: Boston Public Library, 1975.

Sheets, Harold Frank. "Ralph Adams Cram, Expatriate in the Past." Ph.D. Thesis. Univ. of Texas at Austin, 1978.

Stanton, Phoebe. The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture; an Episode in Taste, 1840-1856. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1968.

Webber, F.R. Letter to Carl Eberhard. May 21, 1928. Papers of Concordia Lutheran Church, Louisville, KY.

-----------, "Some Recent Churches of Note," The Walther League Messenger. XL, No. 11 (June, 1932.).

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