The Pilgrim Congregational Church in Redding, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed church tucked away on the west side of town, might be one of Redding’s best-kept secrets.
Last month the Cascade Theatre featured the debut of “The Wright Time” – a locally-produced documentary. The film tells the remarkable story of how the small congregation – in the late 1950s, when Redding was a town of only 12,000 people – managed to secure the services of the renowned architect to help fulfill its vision.
As the congregation outgrew rented spaces, a building committee was formed to outline their vision for a permanent home. Before the search for an architect began, the group thoughtfully articulated their vision of what the structure must express. Among other things, the document stated, “We believe that creative architecture will make people aware of the resources of our Christian faith.”
After disappointing meetings with other architects, a committee member, an architect himself, suggested they present their statement of purpose to Wright and ask him to design the church. After reading it, he responded, “Tell the people of the little church that I will help them out.”
Sue Lang, a resident of Redding for more than 40 years, a local history buff, and a board member of the Shasta Historical Society, became convinced that it was time to document the remarkable story of the church’s origins. “After my husband and I went to Taliesin West last year, I was so inspired by Wright’s work and ideas that I knew we had to tell the story of Pilgrim Congregational,” she said.
Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona, was Wright’s western home and became a teaching facility for budding architects. Wright designed only 10 houses of worship and, while visiting the gift shop there, Lang stumbled on a DVD documenting them. Pilgrim Congregational got only a small mention at the end.
Lang sought the help of another historical society board member, videographer Charley Williams. Valerie Ing, of Jefferson Public Radio, was enlisted to conduct on-camera interviews and provide narration.
“Participating in the making of this film has been so rewarding. It goes hand in hand with JPR’s mission of helping preserve local history and culture,” said Ing. JPR became a sponsor and partner in the project.
In all, 10 people involved with the project are interviewed, from church staff members to a couple of brothers who were children at the time and fondly remember hunting around the county with their father for the rocks used in the walls. The church, with very limited financial means, could not afford to pay a contractor and instead called on talented and hard-working church members, including children, to build the church.
As remarkable as the story of the church is, it’s unlikely the congregation anticipated the other uses it would be known for, decades in the future.
The beloved annual Madrigal Dinner, put on each holiday season for the past 34 years by the Shasta High School music program, relies on the church’s unique atmosphere with its stone walls, warmly colored wood beams, and glittering windows of stained glass, allowing the Madrigal singers and guests to be transported in time back to the Renaissance era in the “castle.”
The Oaksong Society, which holds summer outdoor concerts in Oak Run, has enjoyed putting on the majority of its fall, winter, and spring concerts in the church for the past couple of years. “We had been looking for awhile for a place with more capacity, and the thing about the church is there’s the whole concept of it being a Frank Lloyd Wright building. That makes it special and lends it a certain atmosphere,” said Pete Angwin, artistic director of Oaksong. “Before we visited the church as a potential music venue, I had never even heard there was a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in town, but we found the acoustics to be just beautiful.”
Using still shots, old home movies, and current interviews, the 35-minute film documents the story of the building, from concept to completion, through the eyes of those who worked long and hard to transform their dream into a reality.
The film will be shown a second time, for those who missed its Cascade debut.
“The Wright Time” will be shown free of charge , 7 p.m., Fri. April 18, at the Shasta County Arts Council at the Old City Hall building. A question and answer session follows the film, and DVDs will be for sale.