You may think you know Austin Churches, but here are three wonderful worship spaces few people know exist. Built as all-faith spaces, these were planned for prayer and worship regardless of denomination or affiliation. They represent three generations of Austin religious leadership and three generations of spiritual and church architecture. All of them are reasonably accessible - you may pass by them every day. But all are nearly forgotten when people consider special places for worship in Austin.
Oakwood Cemetery Chapel
The first, and oldest is the Cemetery Chapel in the Oakwood Cemetery built in 1914. Here's a link to our previous blog about this unique building and how unusual it is for a municipality to have constructed, and still own, a worship space. Save Austin Cemeteries has initiated a fundraising program to first stabilize the foundation, and then completely restore this amazing place for use in a variety of activities.
Even in its current condition, the building is worth a visit to see the potential from the outside. The architect, Charles Page, masterfully embraced the small size and scale of the chapel. It feels much bigger than it is, in part due to the balance of traditional gothic forms and elegant craftsman style details. The interior, once restored, will be amazing, as you can see from this video. Sadly, a visitor won't see much on the inside today, it's currently just being used for office space.
Austin State Supported Living Center Chapel
The second is the Chapel at the Austin State Supported Living Center (formerly known as the Austin State School). Dedicated in 1961, it was an early design of the late architect David Greaber. The Chapel is actually a large assembly space built to serve the needs of the residents, visitors and staff in the heart of this special-needs community. According to Dr. Paul Kraus, the current Chaplain, private funds were raised throughout Texas from Protestant, Jewish and Catholic groups, in order to have an appropriate place for the community to worship.
On both the exterior and interior, the Chapel is remarkably preserved and the design has remained nearly intact for the past fifty years. There's a lot of recent interest in mid-century modern design. The Los Angeles County Museum just opened a new exhibit on its impact on West Coast architecture and interiors. So it's even more remarkable to have such a fine example right in the middle of Austin.
Even though it is showing the wear and tear of age, the space continues to be a very beautiful place for worship. The dramatic interior is flooded with light and color. It is well worth a visit, especially on a sunny day. Though it is a public facility, any visitor should arrange in advance with Dr. Kraus at 512-374-6438 or the AuSSLC staff at 512-454-4731.
Dell Children's Hospital Maxwell Chapel
The third hidden jewel is the Maxwell Chapel at the Dell Children's Hospital. This is a space that Heimsath Architects worked on as liturgical consultants. Though space is in the heart of the facility, the modest sign at the door hardly hints at the space inside. Right in the middle of the building, this soaring three-story space was conceived as homage to the modernist landmark at Ronchamp by LeCobusier. Though the dramatic form was set by the hospital architects, we were brought in for the details and functions to make an effective all-faith's chapel.
One of our first contributions was to open the entry area so it joined with the outdoor meditation garden. In the Chapel, windows cut into the stone wall provide a direct connection to nature. This is a major theme throughout the entire hospital, so it was important to continue the connection between the indoor and outdoor faith environments.
The font with free-flowing water, the altar table and the pulpit are bold, simple forms relating to the large volume of the room. The font is fixed as a symbol of entry, but all the rest of the furnishings are flexible, so that many groups and many functions can be accommodated. The stained glass in the three-story window uses symbols to illustrate the history of the Daughters of Charity, the religious order of women who founded and continue to administer the Seton network.
You will notice at the base of the stained glass there is a stone a plinth where the tabernacle is located. Though the Chapel is for all-faiths, the Daughters of Charity are a Roman Catholic institution. For both functional and symbolic reasons, the antique tabernacle is placed here; a further reflection on the origins of the institution. The Dell hospital is a wonderful place to visit. You may ask at the information center for directions to the Chapel, or contact Chaplain Services at 512-324-0153.
Visit our Austin Church Architecture webpage for more information and resources about church building in Austin, Texas.