In 1958, Frank Lloyd Wright accepted the commission as architect for the new Redding Pilgrim Congregational Church building. At the time, he was working on the Guggenheim Museum in New York and remarked, “Tell the people of the little church that I will help them out. If I like the ‘feel’ of a job, I take it.”
Mr. Wright himself did not actually come to Redding, but two of his Taliesin West associates (John Rattenbury and Tony Puttnam) and Aaron Green of the San Francisco office did.
Church members traveled to the Marin Civic Center to meet Mr. Wright where Minister Ray Welles recalled, “Meeting Frank Lloyd Wright was quite a thrill. He was exceedingly deferential to this young minister. I was about as naïve as he was arrogant, but he reached across and tapped my knee as we sat in a tight circle in Aaron’s office and said ‘Well, Domini,’ (a familiar Scottish term for a Reverend) ‘how long do you suppose we‘ll keep building churches?’”
Rev. Welles and church member Clayton Kantz traveled to Taliesin West at Mr. Wright‘s invitation, where he walked them through his design studios, introducing a number of his students, stopping before three different designs. One was for a Christian Science church and bore the proportions and flavors of a cool, intellectual, precise plan he felt echoed the personality of that religion. He then turned to the Redding Church presentation drawings and said, “Now, your faith has emotion in it, and so does your building.”
“We all have diverse viewpoints and individual characteristics, and we come together here out of isolated lives. As tumbling stones temporarily piled together in one place, we would be lost unless we were cemented and bound together – redeemed, if you please – by a common and transcendent element causing us to adhere one to another. That is the Holy Spirit of God, poured over us, covering and combining our varied and unlike shapes, binding us together as one.”-Ray Welles, Founding Minister, December 27, 1961
With tongue-in-cheek, Mr. Wright referred to the Redding design as “pole and boulder gothic.” He stated that the design represented the form of a tent, the ancient dwelling of Israel, as a symbol of our temporary, migratory and transient lives.
The Pilgrim Church building was designed to grow out of the ground. The entrance is a gradual descent, to suggest a return to God‘s creation, and to his forgiving and protecting love.
Wright said, “Only when the buildings are comprehended from within and each in its place a feature of its own special environment, serving its own appropriate purpose with integrity, are they really seen.”
Building construction was done by church members rather than by a hired contractor. The massive rockwork that forms the walls of the church contains 91 tons of rock gathered from Ono, Iron Mountain mine, Keswick and even from some faraway places such as Haiti and Tahiti.
Only a portion of Wright‘s larger plan for the site was actually constructed. Our Sanctuary was originally conceived as a fellowship hall. The current structure is about 13,000 sq. ft. and cost $217,000.
Pilgrim Church is one of thirteen extant Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Northern California.
We love our beautiful church building. It‘s a wonderful treasure for the community to appreciate and enjoy, too, but church is really about a community of people. Join us.
Source: This building summary is adapted from a document by church historian Barbara Ashbaugh.