Filed Under Religion

Fifth Church of Christ Scientist

Many people don't know the difference between a Christian Scientist and a Scientologist--other than perhaps to hazard a guess that Tom Cruise is a member of one or the other of these two religious groups. Clevelanders do, however, know a beautifully designed church when they see one. The Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, located until 2016 on the southeast corner of Lake Avenue and West 117th Street, was not only one of Cleveland's most beautifully designed churches, but, as it exterior sides formed an octagon, it was also one of the city's most uniquely-designed churches.

The Fifth Church of Christ served as the home of a Christian Science congregation from 1927-1989. Christian Science is a Christian religious sect that was founded in 1866 by Mary Baker Eddy, a New Englander who was influenced by the religious fervor of America's Second Great Awakening. Soon after the religion's founding, Christian Scientists began to appear in Cleveland. In 1891, Christian Scientists built their first church in Cleveland on the corner of Kennard (East 46th) Street and Cedar Avenue and appropriately named it the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Three additional churches--named the Second, Third and Fourth Churches, were built on the east side of Cleveland during the period 1891-1914.

In 1915, Cleveland's Christian Scientists crossed the river and formed their first west side congregation. The congregation--appropriately named the Fifth Church of Christ, had as its first permanent house of worship a church built on the northeast corner of West 58th Street and Franklin Avenue in 1889, home originally to the Franklin Congregational Church. That church served the Fifth Church of Christ congregation for ten years. In 1925 the congregation purchased land for a new church to be located on the southeast corner of Lake Avenue and West 117th Street, just across the municipal corporation line from Lakewood. Architect Frank W. Bail (who also designed the majestic Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court building on East 22nd Street in Cleveland and the elegant Lake Shore Hotel (now LakeShore Towers) on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood) was hired to design the new Fifth Church of Christ.

Bail, a talented architect, began his design of the new Fifth Church of Christ much like other Christian Science churches built in the early twentieth century-- an ornate temple in neoclassical style. However, Bail modified the traditional round temple style of these other Christian Scientist churches, giving the new Fifth Church of Christ an octagonal shape, making it unique among the sacred structures of Cleveland. Bail also utilized some unusual materials for the church's exterior, including Birmingham buff sandstone and Nebo marble. Construction of the new church was completed in 1927 and thereafter it served the Fifth Church of Christ congregation for more than 60 years.

In 1989, the Fifth Church of Christ church closed its doors and a grocery store chain, which purchased the church, threatened to demolish it. When nearby residents protested, then Ward-17 councilman (and later Cleveland Housing Court Judge) Raymond Pianka led an effort to have the church declared an historic landmark and to enact legislation to protect it, and other historic landmarks in Cleveland, against "demolition by neglect." The grocery chain eventually bowed to the community pressure and, in 2002, donated the historic sacred structure to the City of Cleveland.

Although Ray Pianka's efforts in the 1990s saved the church from destruction then, the historic building on Lake Avenue was once again threatened with demolition in 2014. And this time, there was no one around to save it from the wrecking ball. The City of Cleveland contended it did not have the funds to repair and maintain this unique historic church and sold it to a local developer who proposed to build a mixed use development on the site. A ground roots community effort was made to save at a part of the historic structure, but that ultimately failed because of estimated preservation costs. In October 2016, the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist was torn down.

Images

Vacant, circa 2013 The Fifth Church of Christ Scientist is pictured adjacent to a construction site, circa 2013. Vacant since 1989 and in bad disrepair, the monumental structure continued to stand at the corner of Lake Avenue and West 117th Street until 2016 when it was razed. Source: burnedcity. "Fifth Church of Christ Scientist." Flickr.
An Octagon Church in Cleveland In its June 26, 1926 edition, the Cleveland Plain Dealer gushed about the proposed new Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, on the corner of Lake Avenue and West 117th Street. The paper noted that talented local architect Frank W. Bail had designed the interesting new church. (The Plain Dealer, however, incorrectly stated that the church would be located in Lakewood.) Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) Encountering health problems in her middle age, Mary Baker Eddy studied metaphysics and came to believe that quoting and interpreting Biblical scripture could heal illnesses. She founded her Christian Science religion in 1866. When she died in 1910, she was called one of the most influential women of the nineteenth century.
Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist - 1915 The Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, congregation, in 1915, purchased the church (shown in the photo above) on the northeast corner of West 58th Street and Franklin Avenue which had been built in 1889 by Franklin Congregational Church. This building served as the congregation's first permanent church on the west side of Cleveland. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Historic Franklin Congregation Church (today) The Franklin Congregational Church which served as the home of worship for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, congregation from 1915-1925, is today one of the historic buildings located in the Franklin Boulevard-West Clinton Avenue historic district of Cleveland. After the Fifth Church of Christ sold the building in 1925, it became home to Our Savior's Norwegian Lutheran Church. In the interim two-year period before their new church was completed at the corner of Lake Avenue and West 117th Street, the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, congregation worshiped at another site located on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. Image courtesy of Google Maps 2013.
The new Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist In 1926, Frank W. Bail, one of Cleveland's talented architects, designed the octagonally-shaped new church for the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, of Cleveland. The design of the new church drew a rave report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Construction was completed in 1927. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
The Reading Room In the above 1968 photo, a woman stands outside the Reading Room of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, on Lake Avenue. In Reading Rooms like this, people during this time period could stop in and read Christian Science literature, including the Christian Science Monitor, a respected newspaper founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1908 to dispel myths about Christian Science. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Scwartz Library. Special Collections.
First Church of Christ, Scientist church (then) The First Church of Christ, Scientist, located at the corner of East 46th Street and Cedar Avenue, was built in 1900. It was the second church built by that congregation. Like the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, on Lake Avenue, this church was also built in neoclassical temple style. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
First Church of Christ, Scientist church (today) The First Church of Christ Scientist church, which was built on the corner of East 46th Street and Cedar Avenue in 1900, is today home to the Lane Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church. The neoclassical temple style of early twentieth century Christian Science churches has been found to be attractive to other religious denominations, who have purchased them after Christian Scientists left, thus helping to preserve some of Cleveland's most beautifully designed churches. Image courtesy of Google Maps 2013.
Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist church (then) The photo above is of the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, church constructed in 1918 and located on the corner of Chester Avenue and East 105th Street. This church has a neoclassical design like the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, on Lake Avenue. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Scwartz Library. Special Collections.
Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist church (today) The building above at 10515 Chester Avenue, which served as home to the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, congregation of Cleveland for much of the twentieth century, is today the home of the Pentecostal Church of Christ which purchased it in 1980. Image courtesy of Google Maps 2013.

Location

11623 Lake Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Fifth Church of Christ Scientist,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 1, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/601.