Sunday, October 14, 2012

949 West 49th Street
Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Unitarian Church of Vancouver
Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Built in 1964 "The Unitarian Church, winner of the first (1965) Citation Buildings Competition, is a fine example of the Modernist idiom, possibly influenced by work of the Prairie School initiated by Frank Lloyd Wright, but given a local interpretation." (Link 2.) 

 It is "...the first post-1940s building added to the City of Vancouver heritage register. The building complex, clustered around a beautiful open courtyard, features cubic composition, overhanging flat roofs and floor-to-ceiling windows." (Link 1.) 

"The building was designed by architect Wolfgang Gerson, (a UBC School of Architecture instructor and himself a Unitarian-Link 3) one of many architectural and engineering professionals dislocated by events of the Second World War, who immigrated to Vancouver and influenced the local design community with their European Modernist sensibilities. 

"The Unitarian Church is culturally important for representing the wave of investment in community institutions during the decades after the Second World War. Many churches, synagogues and temples were built on the south side of Vancouver (Oakridge area)  in this period. Together with public spending on schools, libraries, and community centres, church construction demonstrates the relative economic ease with which major facilities were built in Vancouver in the 1960s. The relocation of the Unitarian Church from the Kitsilano neighbourhood to this site denotes the increasing mobility of citizens through the widespread use of the automobile. " (Link 2.)


"The Sanctuary is a light-filled room, (Note photo of ceiling skylight.) holding up to (300) people. It is a unique space for weddings, memorials, and other rites of passage. The large stage at the front of the room is ideal for recitals, choirs, chamber groups and plays. Equipped with microphones operated by a sound booth in the balcony, it has excellent acoustics....Throughout the year, the walls of the sanctuary are hung with monthly rotating art exhibits(Link 1.)  

In preparation for the 50th anniversary in 2014 much redecoration is underway  through out the buildings. The  intention is to provide a mid century look and feel to the building.  "Much of this has been the result of the work of Bennett Mitten, a church member and volunteer, who has been named this year by the Board as "Design Consultant In Residence" 2012 to 2014.... Bennett is a talented local furniture maker." (Elaine Spilos.)

Sanctuary "Stitcheries" (Detail)

The floor to ceiling "stitcheries" hung on either side of  the front of the sanctuary were designed by Wolfgang Gerson.  "They were made by a group of women all members of the church under the direction of Penny Goldstone who was a fabric artist and art instructor in the Education Deparment at UBC.  Each panel was stitched by a different person."  (Erika Gerson.)

 Sanctuary Ceiling Skylight
Hewett Centre

"Hewett Centre (named for minister Phillip Hewett-Link 3.) features a large hall, an up-to-date kitchen, the popular Fireside Room, and (other) meeting rooms to accommodate groups of various sizes. 

"The Main Hall in Hewett Centre can easily accommodate 100 people. It is used to host wedding ... receptions, large meetings, cabarets, pot luck dinners, auctions, and a variety of family and community celebrations.

"The Fireside Room at Hewett Centre is often used for celebrations, services and meetings. It can accommodate up to 50 people for presentations, slide shows, workshops and receptions. Lighting can be set to enhance a variety of moods. Our Art Committee ensures that this room has a rotating art exhibit on the walls." (Link 1.)

Fireside Room Fireplace 

"The mosaic in the Fireside was done by Bob Kingsmill...(Link 5.) He was commissioned by Wolfgang Gerson." (Connie Wigmore) 

The central courtyard ambles between the Sanctuary, the Administration building on the south and the Hewett Centre on the west.  The lovely grounds surrounding the buildings include: the Memorial Garden, several sculptures, and "Arbutus, Cedrus, Magnolia, Rhododendron, Acer" (Link 2.) trees.

Courtyard Sculpture "Beginnings"
by  John Voth

"That piece outside the window on the balcony stairs is by John Voth. He recalls its name as being "Beginnings", a reference to how the opposable thumb made survival for our species possible, leading to what we optimistically refer to as civilization (and facilitating snapping one's fingers)." (Rob Taylor)

Court Yard Sculpture "Ballerina"

At the 11am service on Sunday,  September 9, 2012 the Unitarian Church of Vancouver was presented with a Heritage Plaque as part of the celebration of 
Vancouver's 125th birthday.  The 125 sites were selected as "places where 

people and events shaped Vancouver's future and continued to tell the stories 

of Vancouver's past." (Link 4.)  

The Vancouver Unitarian Church welcomes visitors and rentals of its facilities.  Information is available on its website. (Link 1.)

Thank you: To Rev. Dr. Steven Epperson, Minister of the Unitarian Church of
                 Vancouver and congregation members: Carolyn Grant, Patti Turner,
                 Connie Wigmore, Erika Gerson, and Rob Taylor for their assistance.
                 Revisions directed by Elaine Spilos.
Photos: Taken August 2012 by SW.
                 Of Marjorie Smith photo, copy by SW.

In Memory of Marjorie Smith
1915 to 2012

Marjorie Smith
A mother and musician extraordinaire.
Member of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.

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