12. Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, 1929

Now Chinese Christian Church
2519 East Kenwood Boulevard (between Stowell and Downer Avenues)
Architect: Charles Faulkner (Chicago)

Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist
Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist

As the Christian Science denomination continued its rapid expansion during the early decades of the twentieth century, the church established its fourth place of worship in Milwaukee in the early 1920s. The new congregation initially built a wooden church that could accommodate about 300 people, on a donated parcel across the street from Milwaukee-Downer College (now the Milwaukee campus of the University of Wisconsin). The congregation later acquired adjacent parcels and soon owned the entire northern portion of the block on Kenwood Boulevard between Stowell and Downer Avenues. Construction of the present church on this property, with adjoining offices, classrooms, and other facilities, began in the spring of 1929. The first services in the completed church were held in June of 1930.

Charles Draper Faulkner (1890-1979) of Chicago designed the large Colonial Revival church. Faulkner studied architecture at Chicago’s Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), graduating in 1913. After graduation, he began working in the office of Solon Beman, a prominent Chicago architect. Beman received commissions for numerous Christian Science churches, including the First Christian Science Church on Prospect Avenue in Milwaukee, built in 1907. In Beman’s office, Faulkner not only gained experience in the design of Christian Science churches, but also presumably met church leaders who would be the source of many future commissions. Establishing his own office in 1920, Faulkner designed Christian Science churches in all of the Great Lakes states and other states from New Jersey to Texas. By 1942, he had designed more than 30 Christian Science churches. Faulkner also designed some churches for other denominations, but the mainstay of his practice appears to have been his work for the Church of Christ, Scientist.

Faulkner’s self-published book of 1946, Christian Science Church Edifices, provided guidance for those planning to construct new churches. The book covers a wide range of topics, from site selection and site planning to construction financing and selecting an architect. It includes illustrations of many Christian Science churches from across the country, including 14 designed by the author. Faulkner tended to favor the Colonial Revival in his own designs for this denomination, although the book illustrates designs in a wide variety of architectural styles.

Faulkner’s design for the Fourth Christian Science Church in Milwaukee is an unusually free interpretation of the Colonial Revival, particularly for the 1920s. In this period, architects tended to favor a more academic version of the style, with a high degree of fidelity to the forms, proportions, and details of the Georgian and Federal style buildings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The tall entrance portico of the Milwaukee church is a departure from this academic approach, as are the lack of a pediment and the windowless façade. The eight columns of the curved portico are 25 feet tall, and each is carved from a single block of limestone. The column capitals do not conform to any of the classical orders, although they appear to be loosely based on the Corinthian.

The tall spire is a rarity among Milwaukee churches in not being topped by a cross, as crosses and other forms of Christian symbolism are not used in Christian Science churches. However, this is consistent with Colonial and Federal period Protestant churches, whose steeples were often topped by weathervanes rather than crosses. The spire of the Fourth Christian Science Church was damaged by a lightning strike in the 1970s and rebuilt in accordance with the original design a few years later. A more recent alteration was the addition of the words “Chinese Christian Church of Milwaukee,” in both English and Chinese, above the columns of the entrance portico.

Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist
Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist

After more than 70 years at this location, the Fourth Christian Science congregation sold the building early in the present century to the Chinese Christian Church. Although the Chinese have never been numerous in Milwaukee compared to other immigrant groups, the number of immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China has grown steadily since the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 and the Chinese revolution of 1949. The United States census of 2000 identified more than 2,500 people of Chinese birth or ancestry in Milwaukee County. Founded in 1978 and formerly located in the northern suburban village of Brown Deer, the Chinese Christian Church is one of only two Chinese-language churches in Milwaukee, the other being the Chinese Community Baptist Church at 73rd and Stevenson Streets on the West Side. The Chinese Christian Church currently offers Sunday services in both English and Chinese.

Faulkner, Charles Draper. Christian Science Church Edifices. Charles Faulkner, 1946.

Historic Designation Study Report: Fourth Church of Christ Scientist. City of Milwaukee, Department of City Development, 1996.

“History, Fourth Church of Christ Scientist, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Unpublished typescript, dated 1945, in the Church Papers of the Milwaukee County Historical Society Library.

“New Science Church Opens,” Milwaukee Sentinel, June 30, 1930, page 11, column 2.

“A Portfolio of Church Architecture,” Architectural Record, September 1931, pages 165-192.

Turner, Diane. “The Growth of Christian Science in Milwaukee.” Unpublished typescript dated 1978, in the Church Papers of the Milwaukee County Historical Society Library.