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Pilgrim Congregational Church, 1958
Frank Lloyd Wright accepted the commission to build Redding's Pilgrim Congregational Church in 1958. It was one of Wright's last designs - and his last church, completed in 1963 after Wright died.
When the church members began discussing what they wanted in their new church building, someone joked that they were so hard to satisfy that they might a Frank Lloyd Wright to realize their ideas. That was when the building committee chairman (who was an architect) said "I wonder what’d happen if we phoned him." So they did.
The gave Wright a passionate appeal, and he accepted, saying: “Tell the people of the little church that I will help them out. If I like the ‘feel’ of the job, I‘ll take it.” Wright never visited the Redding site in person, but instead sent three of his associates to do a site survey.
Wright called the style of the Pilgrim Congregational Church "Pole and Boulder Gothic." The walls are built of desert rubblestone (similar to the material used at Taliesin West), which makes it appear to grow out of its surroundings. The form with 23 giant steel and concrete roof supports that envelop the building resembles a tent, the ancient dwelling of Israel, which Wright used as a symbol of our temporary, migratory and transient lives.
To emphasize the concept of the church growing from the ground, the entrance gradually descends.
Wright designed a church complex with a 300-seat sanctuary, a 100-seat chapel, and a 17-classroom church school, composed of three wings arranged in a triangular shape. A massive, belfry tower would top the central core, with the minister's study on its upper floor.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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More About Pilgrim Congregational Church - and More of California's Wright Sites
Unfortunately, the church's finances weren't up to implementing Wright's grand plan. When they couldn't get an affordable bid for the construction, they decided to build it themselves. They weren't the only Wright clients to build their own rubblestone structure. The Berger family of San Anselmo also opted to carry out their own building project just a few years previous.
With guidance from architects at Taliesin West, the church members constructed the area originally planned to be the fellowship hall and decided to use it as their sanctuary, which they dedicated in 1963. That was only one-fifth of Wright's grander plan, which has never been completed.
Wright designed only five churches in his lifetime, and Pilgrim Congregational was his last. The others were Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois; First Christian Church of Phoenix, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee; and pyramid-crowned Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
During the design of Pilgrim Congregational, members of the church visited Wright's studios at Taliesin West, where he showed them three designs for other churches. One was a Christian Science church, a cool, intellectual, precise plan that he felt reflected the personality of that religion. When he showed the model for Pilgrim Congregational Church, he said: “Now, your faith has emotion in it, and so does your building.”Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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What You Need to Know about Pilgrim Congregational Church
Pilgrim Congregational Church is located at:
2850 Foothill Boulevard
The church is open for worship services, but they don't offer public tours. You can see the exterior from the parking lot. You can also see some pictures at ReallyRedding.com including a 3-D model of what the whole complex would have looked like. You can also read more about the building at the church's website.
More of the Wright Sites
Pilgrim Congregational Church is one of a few California properties that Wright designed using desert rubble construction, a style he first used in Arizona at Taliesin West. These are the other California examples: Arch Oboler Gatehouse and Eleanor's Retreat and the Berger House.
The church isn't the only Wright site outside California's metro areas. You'll also find several houses, a church, and a medical clinic in some of the most unexpected places. Here's where to find Wright sites in the rest of California. You can also see Wright Sites in Los Angeles and in the San Francisco area.
More to See Nearby
Architect Santiago Calatrava designed the gorgeous Sundial Bridge in Redding, making the town the most surprising place for architectural treasures in California.