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.