Year Built: 1948-53 / 2000
THEME / CONTEXT
First Congregational Church is associated with the context of Community Planning and Development. It falls under the theme of Ecclesiastical development - church.
The First Congregational Church is significant, as a landmark, for its presence in Downtown Tempe since 1899. It houses the church congregation to have continuously occupied the same site in Tempe for the longest period of time. First Congregational Church is also significant for its historic association with some of Tempe's most influential citizens, most notably, the Reverend Daniel Kloss. Reverend Kloss, who was 61 years old when he migrated from Kansas to the Salt River Valley in 1891, was a well-schooled minister and educator. He began operation of a 160-acre farm under the Tempe Canal, and in 1892 he organized the First Congregational Church of Tempe, serving as its minister until 1900. From 1893 to 1897, Reverend Kloss sat on the board of the Territorial Normal School (now Arizona State University). During his tenure the Main Building (Old Main), which was the school's first substantial construction effort, was completed. Kloss also served as director of the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company and was president of the Kansas Society, a Valley-wide organization of Kansas immigrants.
The original First Congregational Church was built in 1899 on the southeast corner of Sixth Street and Myrtle Ave. Through the years there have been several renovations and additions to the church. The first church building was built in what was known as the “Akron Plan.” This style of building was developed in Akron, Ohio and was very popular in the west from 1870 until about 1925. The original church had a 50 foot high steeple and the entrance was on 6th Street. The auditorium was 40 x 80 feet and seated 300(the meeting room was always referred to as the auditorium and never as the sanctuary). The First Congregational Church of Tempe was dedicated on May 21, 1899. In 1927, a church parlor was added which served as Sunday school rooms, kitchen and dining room, and a general meeting place for social gatherings. The exterior of the building was covered with cement plaster, the walls were strengthened, and cathedral glass was installed in the windows. Sometime between 1928 and 1929 the steeple was removed from the structure. In 1948, a new social hall was built, later named “Prior Hall” in honor of the Reverend Cecil L. Prior (Pastor from 1942-1963). This structure incorporated the existing walls on the east and west side of the building. In addition to the social hall, classrooms were built on the south side of the church, which was referred to as the rear, since the entrance was on 6th Street. In early 1953, a new sanctuary was built using a combination of old brick from the original building joined with new brick. The entrance to the church was moved to the Myrtle Avenue frontage and a new steeple was placed atop the structure. The original bell installed in 1899 was subsequently placed in the 1953 steeple. The bell continues to be rung every Sunday morning.
The architect of the 1953 sanctuary, and possibly the 1948 additions, was Kemper Goodwin, FAIA, noted Tempe architect. Kemper, with his son, Michael, was also the architect of Tempe City Hall. Although, there have been numerous renovations to the church, a substantial portion of the existing complex was built prior to 1948, with the sanctuary as the most recent addition in 1953. Although there is little evidence of the earlier structures, the 1948 and 1953 portions retain most of their original fabric. Sensitive modifications, including an entry to Prior Hall from the south, were made in the 1990’s. The modern alterations to the historic building are sensitive to the character and detailing of the original features. This building continues to provide a positive contribution to the area and remains a prominent building in the downtown.
The First Congregational Church is significant, as a landmark, for its presence in Downtown Tempe since 1899. It houses the oldest church congregation on the same site in Tempe. The founding members of the church are associated with significant events in the history of Tempe. The founders were a group of Congregationalists from Kansas also known as the “Kansas Colony”. The “Colony” included the families of Rev. and Mrs. Kloss, D. G. Buck, F. A. Hough, Col. J. E. Price, John Van Tuyl, and W. S. White. The Rev. and Mrs. Kloss were the first to arrive in Tempe in 1891. Rev. Kloss was on the Board of the Arizona Territorial Normal School (now ASU) from 1894 to 1897. He was president of the board during the building of “Old Main” and served as a director of the Tempe Irrigating Canal Company. He was an essential player in the irrigation of early Tempe. In addition to founding members, the church congregation has included other prominent Tempe/Arizona citizens, including Professors Payne, Burkhard, Clark, Felton, and Dr. Grady Gammage from the Arizona State College. In 1954, at the dedication ceremony of the present sanctuary, the Honorable Howard Pyle, Governor of Arizona, was a guest speaker. The modern alterations to the historic hall at the south portion of the building are sensitive to the character and detailing of the original features. This building provides a positive contribution to the area.
In November 2000, the Tempe Historic Preservation Commission recommended designation and listing of the First Congregational Church under the landmark provision of the Tempe historic preservation ordinance noting the church is significant, as a landmark, for its presence in Downtown Tempe since 1899, and that it will meet the criteria listing on the Arizona or National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The first property to be locally designated and listed in the Tempe Historic Property Register as a landmark, the First Congregational Church was automatically reclassified as an historic property in 2003.
Staff Report to the Historic Preservation Commission by Sherri Lesser, November 9, 2000.
Tempe 1997 Multiple Resource Area Update
Tempe Historic Property Survey HPS-153 Kloss/Daggs/Nielsen House
Tempe Historic Property Survey HPS-264 First Congregational Church