St. Mark's Lutheran Church

St. Mark's solicited and received the recommendations of an architect for the building of a new church and the development of church property in 1954:


St. Mark’s Lutheran Church
Williamsport, Pennsylvania

On June 14th, 1954, the writer made a consultation visit to St. Mark’s Church at the request of Mr. H. Frank Kelley and in a meeting with other representatives of the church, Dr. Houser and with Pastor Lambert, discussed the problems which face the church and the factors which might shape its future.

The present church lies on a small triangle separated from its parish building on one side by a narrow twenty foot Street, and on the other side with steeply rising traffic ramps which leaves the church down in a pocket which greatly destroys its prominence and the effectiveness of that end of the property as a church building site.

The church owns most of the adjacent property away from the present church building and toward the railroad property up to about the center of the gasoline station and it is thought that over a period of time the properties not now owned, may be purchased.

The possibilities discussed were:

No. 1 - The alteration and possible additions to the existing church structure.

No. 2 - The entire relocation of the church with all of its activities in another section of the city.

No. 3 - The discarding of the present church building and the building of a new church structure with needed additional parish building facilities on the adjacent properties.

After an inspection of the existing church building with regard to analyzing its possibilities in expansion and in alteration, the writer came to the conclusion that to retain this church and enlarge it, would result in a fairly high expenditure for the floor areas made available and improved, but the building is not an attractive one architecturally from the exterior or the interior and that it would be a makeshift building regardless of the money spent upon it by completion, arid that it would be a mistake to maintain the church structure in the unattractive depressed pocket where it now stands. In other words, while it may be proven on a dollar basis that more floor area might be made usable in that church for less money than the same floor areas in a new structure, it would he, in this writer’s opinion, a further mistake to continue in that location.

Since information furnished by the Committee in our discussion together indicated that Williamsport is not a rapidly growing city as compared to some suburban areas surrounding such cities as Philadelphia and towns in the industrial Delaware Valley area, and since a relocation of the church in any area which is growing would involve direct and close competition with another Lutheran church already existing, and since the church is now directly involved in providing a religious and semi-social service type of facilities in the local community, that there is no valid reason that one could find for moving the church bodily to another location unless it be the appearance of the present location and buildings as now constituted.

This writer is of the opinion that the latter defect of appearance and most of the seeming defects of the present location which are related to appearance can be largely nullified if an adequate future growth scheme for the church plant is developed and accepted. He feels also that since people now served by the church in its own area would be neglected were the church to remove its activities from that area, that this in itself is a strong reason for remaining.

It was pointed out also that the people of the church come from a widely spread area of the city and that they could reach this area as well as any other and would find it convenient provided adequate parking facilities were maintained. Since this would be true in any area , therefore,  the solution in the existing location would seem to be the provision far parking area which would not be lost in the future. Therefore should the church find adjacent properties to the rear of its existing facilities, would become available at a reasonable price over the next two years, it would seem wise to planning endeavor to acquire them, for parking purposes.

With al of the above in view, therefore, it is recommended that the church maintain its present location, that it remove the existing church building, and rebuild the church and additional church plant facilities as needed on the opposite side of the parish building now existing.

It should be pointed out however, that since such an ultimate development scheme would involve analyzing the distant as well as the near future with regard to church needs, that the best plan would be one which could allow expansion particularly in parish building facilities beyond what we can now safely foresee.

In this meeting with the Committee the writer prepared a small and very rough preliminary sketch of a schematic presentation to indicate that a church of adequate size seems to be feasible on the property toward the left near the railroad tracks, from which it would be insulated by a planted screen, and by a forty foot set back to the main wall of the church through which a twenty foot street could be passed from Market Street to State Street. In the rear, which could either be dedicated to the city for maintenance by them, or could be retained as a private controlled thoroughfare for church use.

Between the church along, Market Street at the front and the existing parish building it Is recommended that a chapel building might be provided which would be located so as to be available for supplementary church uses such as small wedding and baptismal ceremonies, and would yet be connected to the right the parish building, for use as a chapel with its program.

It is suggested that the front of the church along Market Street could be set back from the street thirty feet. This would provide, with the additional width of the street quite a level area in front of the church so that those on the adjacent traffic ramp would receive less of an impression that they were looking down upon the church as much as they were looking across a church lawn to a building.

It is also suggested that the old residence in front of the parish building eventually removed and that it be replaced with perhaps an administration center of one story or low construction so that those approaching it from the high level of the bridge would be able to look over the one story building and see a church with its tower plainly beyond. Such a low building if it had a sloping roof also would tend to cover up much of the mass of a larger flat roof building to the rear in which case the dark red brick of the parish building may be disregarded and the material of the front addition could tie in with the new church  structure.

It is recommended that the chapel be a one-story building and of adequate height for that use only.

Along State Street to the rear it is suggested that a two-story Sunday School wing may be possible, extending from the existing parish building from the right, toward the left, behind the church building and out toward the private street from which it would have access through its own entrance.  This wing would have a cloister-like corridor on the inner court side, providing closing doors and easy access to an out-door church garden which is of substantial size, and this would accommodate all of all of the seating in the church for an out-door service, social activities and far use as an activity and play space in connection with Summer School or Nursery School.

In effect this large area becomes an outdoor room around which the buildings would be wrapped, with the area planted at its perimeter with attractive shrubs so that it would be an attractive view from all four surrounding, building units.

Architecturally this plan arrangement of new buildings can look attractive from every direction, and will in the opinion of the writer, place the accent for focal spot of the architectural group away from the high ramps toward the point where they will be much lower with the tower becoming the eye catching sign board of the church.

It is recommended that the congregation give serious consideration to the use of a simple and attractive and churchly contemporary type of architecture which can have all of the charm of the traditional styles, retain all of the church form and symbolism which is desired, provide much more adequate light to class areas than one normally finds in traditional styles, and which will tend to be more economical.

Planting would be an important part of this development, not only as a tree and shrub screen along the railroad, as low planting at the front and sides of the building for proper accent, out also as screening of some of the ramps and for the formation of a very small but park-like area in the site now occupied by the present church building. It is suggested also that the present church site might have inserted in it enough parking for the cars of the church staff, and for the occasional daytime visitor to the administrative center.  This latter parking area would be very attractive one approached the church location by way of the traffic ramps and would help give it a proper setting.

It is recommended that if the church has the courage to adopt this planning possibility if it finds the arrangement suitable to their needs, that it will appoint a committee to go further to endeavor to form a community group representing adjacent and other in property holders and representatives of the city government to see how the area might have a face-lifting , thorough planting campaign, through clean-up campaigns, and through adequate city planting. This may sound idealistic, but other towns and cities have done the same thing, and the chief reason such things do not get done is because a few people who could instigate the movement, think it can’t be done.

The writer wishes to point out that a new program arrangement is rapidly taking hold in many churches especially those which hove already accepted the double morning service idea. The Sunday School is also developing two sessions of Sunday School, paralleling the church times, and that each Sunday School service contain all of the classes. As a result parents and children in one family can come to church at one time one discharge their obligations in both church and Sunday School and have the rest of the day free as many of then desire.  We see no reason why this cannot be accomplished in many churches nor why it cannot be done in this particular church provided an adequate teaching staff is trained for this program.  The tendency, if teachers be lacking, will of course be toward larger classes. It may be that an increase in staff will be necessary to handle this program. It must be pointed out, however, that this two service program in the Sunday School would greatly reduce the necessary expenditure for Sunday School space and that such a saving at interest might perhaps of a long way toward paying the salary of an additional staff member.

The writer recommends that a decision be made with regard to the use of this two session Sunday School before any real serious planning, even in the preliminary stage, is gone into with the help of the architect.

Prepared by T. Norman Mansell A. I. A.

C.A.G.A. 262 S 17th Street, Philadelphia 3, Pa.

June 16, 1954