Let’s start with the premise that there is such thing as a Googie church.
And then let’s look at a photo of an architectural model of Christ Chapel and ponder its possible claim to Googie influences.
From third grade through 12th grade I went to the Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania. Except we called third grade D Form and we called 12th grade sixth (VI) form. That was from the fall of 1959 until graduation in June 1969.
Episocpal is a church school, founded in 1785. It was a boys school when I was there. That changed after I graduated; a few years later, girls were admitted. It has a Latin motto – to be rather than to seem to be. This is a noble aspiration.
Each stripe on the jersey signified a virtue. If you did something that was inconsistent with one of these virtues, the corresponding stripe was covered up. Or at least it is said that this could happen. I don’t remember it ever happening, even when three boys in my 7th grade (I form) class were arrested on Mischief Night 1963 for slashing tires.
The campus as I knew it consisted of five old robber baron mansions, linked by sports fields and some woods and a few buildings added by Episcopal. Here are four of the mansions:
Many of these photos are from the Lower Merion Historical Society (LMHS). The bottom photo is the back of the building. It shows the boys who were members of the Forestry Club in 1951. Who knew?
As was befitting for any self-respecting robber baron mansion, it had its own power plant, attached to large stables behind it. The power plant is shown in this photo.
Upper School was really a stunning building. William Lightfoot Price designed it. It was demolished in the early 1970s. Too bad. Here are some interior shots from the early 20th century, when it was still a robber baron home:
The interior was glorious, even 45 years after it made the transition from mansion to school. It is something of an indulgence to have found these photos and to show them, but there is a point that I am making. There was nothing vaguely Googie about most of the campus.
One of the buildings constructed by the school was the old gym, which was built in 1922, the year after the school’s move to Merion. The cafeteria was in the ground floor of the old gym, in what had been the locker room when the old gym was the gym.
The old gym was eventually converted into a theater, but it was still the gym until 1964 and even after that we had PE there. Plus assemblies to sing (as in the photo below) and hobby shows and dances.
You can see – it is all pretty old school.
We had chapel every day. Morning prayer every day. In 1924, three years after moving into the first mansion, the school built a temporary chapel, which we called the old chapel.
As the school grew, the old chapel (I am noticing that there were a number of buildings named after what they once but no longer were) got too small and so a new chapel was commissioned. It was completed as I entered 4th grade (C Form). P.S. The old chapel became the study hall. In the summer of 1965 the library moved to the old chapel. The old library became the study hall.
Vincent Kling designed the new chapel. After World War II he worked for Skidmore Owings and Merrill in New York, which he left to establish his own practice in Philadelphia in 1946. He was a big-time Philadelphia architect. Here are a few of his other designs:
The chapel he designed was in keeping with the time and a stark contrast to the late 19th/early 20th century feel of the rest of the campus.
I went to chapel every day for 9 years, from fourth grade through 12th grade (C form through VI form). The arithmetic – 9 times 190 = 1,710 chapel services. Half an hour each morning, the service of morning prayer. I did not like chapel. I now look back on chapel with affection. It’s funny how that works.
I also remember the chaplains with great affection and admiration. One, Sandy McCurdy, launched me with the United Farm Workers in 1967. My mother taught him kindergarten at Episcopal in the late 1940s. His father was a world-reknowned organist and teacher. It is said that his students manifested a sublime lyricism in playing, and that most shared his affinity for the Symphonic school of pipe-organ design.
He has inspired me all these years – still. I especially remember the words of hymns. Here are two favorite verses of a hymn:
A thousand ages in thy sight / Are like an evening gone / Short as the watch that ends the night / Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream/ Bears all its sons away/ They fly, forgotten, as a dream/ Dies at the opening day.
Words to live by.
So, though, there it turns out that I was going to chapel ever morning for nine years in a building that could be called Googie. It is modern, to be sure, but I will go out on a limb and claim that Googie at least informed Kling’s design.
I ran these photos by my friend. He remembered Episcopal – visited there with me before the demolition of the great old mansions. He asked if I had any photos my sister’s school.
Sure – the Baldwin School. Across Radnor Street from my grandmother’s house. I asked why he asked. “You are a traitor to your class,” he said. “And proud of it” I said.
What about the chapel as Googie?