Friday, November 20, 2015

Treasures from the Archive: Graebner Memorial Chapel

Original chapel in Old Main, 1894-1918
Our campus has always had a chapel, but it has not always been the beauty of a building that it is today. In the earliest days of the school, the chapel was a large room on the first floor of Old Main. The pews were school desks, but it had a lovely pipe organ.

By 1914, enrollment had increased to the point of overcrowding in classrooms and dormitories. A new building, the Administration Building (or Meyer Hall as it is known now), was planned to house a new chapel-auditorium, a faculty room, a reception room, offices, seven new classrooms, a library, museum, and science laboratories.

The north end of the Administration Building was designated for the chapel-auditorium, or Aula. It was two stories high with a bank of beautiful stained glass windows facing Syndicate. The Aula was designed in the Renaissance style and featured elaborate ornamentation with Greek motifs. It had a stage, a gallery, and seated an audience of 350. The Aula served as the school’s chapel from 1918 until 1954.

Chapel-auditorium, Aula, in the Administration Building, 1918-1954
In 1953, construction began on the Lutheran Memorial Center—a new athletic facility. This created the opportunity for other remodeling projects on campus. The Aula was converted into 5 new classrooms and additional office space. The “old gymnasium” was transformed into the Graebner Memorial Chapel.

Graebner Memorial Chapel dedication service, November 13, 1955
As anyone who has been in our chapel can see, the renovations to the gymnasium made it almost unrecognizable as a former basketball court! Interior brick walls were added to enclose the vestry and sacristy; they were oriented to direct visual focus towards the altar. Stained glass windows and pews were installed. 

A new entrance and narthex were added to create a more “churchly” appearance. A steel bell tower topped with a cross was built near the entrance to house the old college bell and give it new life as the new chapel bell.
Exterior of the Graebner Memorial Chapel, 1955-2007
The addition of the Cross of Christ Fellowship Center and the slight renovations to the interior of the chapel make it the striking building that it is today.

As one of the oldest buildings on campus, Graebner Memorial Chapel has an interesting history. So, the next time you find yourself seated in the chapel, don’t be surprised if you think you hear the squeak of sneakers, the thump of a basketball being dribbled, the swoosh of the net, and cheers of fans… 

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting!! :) I had heard of the current chapel having been a basketball court, but I had no idea about the rest of this! I would love to see floor plans for all this stuff!


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