The Preston Bradley Center of Chicago

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Our next stop on the Chicago Architecture Tour Open house was the Preston Bradley Center.

About Preston Bradley

Built in 1925 and named after Preston Bradley, the Preston Bradley Center was also called “The Preston Bradley People’s Church”. Until his death in 1983, Bradley was an influential civic voice in Chicago with a radio ministry that reached millions. He believed that “ethics, religion, and economics could not be separated”. 

Bradley also disagreed with many concepts of modern Christianity. He grew disillusioned with Christian fundamentalism, and had a falling out with the Presbyterian Church over opinions about baptizing babies. 

The center that bears his name is located in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood about a block away from the Lawrence House (from the previous post), a walking distance from the Lawrence Red Line. 

Preston Bradley Center/The People’s Church

Preston Bradley Center

We arrived and were greeted by a few lovely people. They gave us a brief rundown of the history of the church as well as the man behind it. During their speech, they pointed to a bust in the corner. 

“That’s Dr. Bradley’s bust over there.” They handed me a book with him on the cover. “We’ll let you decide whether it looks like him or not. Public opinion is about 50/50, really. Some people don’t see the connection at all.” 

Preston Bradley

While not a dead-ringer for the man, I think it’s close enough. Sarah disagreed. Just as the worker had said, we were divided–an even 50/50 split–on the bust. 

The Auditorium

At its peak, Bradley’s church drew over 4,000 people every week, though those numbers have since declined along with the neighborhood. To hold all of these people, Bradley designed a church that, like Bradley’s ideologies, deviated from the normal Christian churches of the time, opting for a more simple auditorium design. 

Main Auditorium at Preston Bradley Center

His church, in his own words, had “none of the architectural trappings of bygone ecclesiastical attitudes. There is no tower, no medieval chancels and naves.” Instead, he wanted “an open room, airy, warm, inviting fellowship and the breezes of fresh ideas.”

The decor differed from the Church as well. Instead of the ornate wall decorations seen in most churches of the time. A mural was added in 1959 by Louis Grell above the William Ellery Channing quote “Live a life of faith and hope. Believe in the mighty power of truth and love.”

Main Stage at Preston Bradley Center

Main stage at Preston Bradley Center

The Mason Room

On the fourth floor of the Bradley Center was The Mason Room. There was an elevator, but I honestly think that walking up the stairs was faster. 

Preston Bradley Center

The Mason Room was an architectural treasure that doesn’t appear to have been updated since it was built. For those wondering, it does appear to be available for rent. 

mason Room at Main Auditorium at Preston Bradley Center

Mason Room at Main Auditorium at Preston Bradley Center

On one wall was a giant metal door that was a few feet off the ground. It was cracked open, and we could see that it was a door to the outside. We opened it (illegally, oops) and got a wonderful glimpse at a rainy Uptown Chicago. 

View from Upstairs ballroom at Preston Bradley Center

View from Upstairs ballroom at Preston Bradley Center

On our way out, we passed the Uptown Arts Center’s gallery and studio space and this art piece that shows the Lawrence Red Line stop, complete with Aragon Theatre sign. 

Painting at Preston Bradley Center

I don’t know if the Preston Bradley Center is open to tours outside of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House weekend, but if it is, I do recommend going. I was raised in a church that was very different from this, and while I may not agree with the religious aspects of what this church stands for, I do like the sense of community that serves as the backbone to the church’s mission. 

With that, our next and final stop is the Chicago Printer’s Collaborative. 


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