Columbus Architecture: Avenue Of Architects

1942 marked the beginning of the architectural movement in Columbus, Indiana with the building of the First Christian Church.

church building and National Historic Landmark plaque

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

The First Christian Church was the first contemporary building in Columbus, Indiana. As the plaque indicates, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001.

Where It All Began

Six buildings built between 1942 and 1965 in Columbus, Indiana are National Historic Landmarks. So far on Artworks’ tour of the city’s architecture scene, we’ve visited two of those buildings: the Miller Home & Gardens and the First Financial Bank downtown branch, both designed by architect Eero Saarinen.

But it was a building by Eero’s father Eliel that started it all for Columbus: The First Christian Church, located on Fifth Street amidst a few blocks of other architecturally important buildings known as the Avenue of Architects.

A Pair Of Masterpieces

The First Christian Church earned its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2001, some 59 years after it was built. It was the first modernist building in Columbus and, according to Associate Director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center Cindy Frey, one of the first contemporary churches in the country.

“When it was built, residents weren’t so fond of it. They thought it looked like a factory,” says Frey. “But today it’s probably one of the most cherished buildings in Columbus.”

Across the street is the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, designed by architect I.M. Pei and finished in 1969. “One of the things that’s really interesting about it is how respectful it is of Saarinen’s masterpiece,” says Frey. She points out that as visitors climb the stairway to the children’s library, the tower of the church rises into view with every step.

For The Good Of The Public

Down the street a little further is a church and a school designed by Gunnar Birkerts. At the end of the block is Cummins Plant One, which was designed by Harry Weese. And further down is one of the newer buildings in town, certainly the newest school, the Central Middle School, which was designed by Ralph Johnson.

This focus on creating architecturally interesting public buildings is one of the missions of the Cummins Foundation, a program founded by J. Irwin Miller and designed to help promote architecture projects throughout the city.

Beautiful Landscaping

The former Irwin family home is also located on Fifth Street. It’s hard to ignore the beautiful canopy of zelkova trees that line both sides of the street, a project of J. Irwin Miller’s sister. When she lived in the family house, she asked the neighbors across the street if she could also plant the trees in their yard. It was her hope that in her lifetime she would see the canopy grow together and create a tunnel of greenery.

She was indeed able to experience that before her death.

“I kind of marvel at these every time I walk by,” adds Frey.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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