The church edifice as seen today was constructed primarily in four phases between 1906 and 1920. The cornerstone of the Lady Chapel at Hinman Avenue and Lee Street is dated 1909. The main sanctuary was enlarged to its current proportions in 1914, on the eve of the Great War. The adjacent Parish House and Battle Cloister were added in 1920. Most of the building material consists of Indiana Bedford limestone with Vermont slate pavers on the interior floors. More recently, a major, self-funded renovation of the sanctuary roof was completed between 2009 and 2015.
The original architect for St. Luke’s was John B. Sutcliffe (1853-1913), a noted Anglo-American designer of gothic revival churches throughout the Midwest. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, along with Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Springfield, Illinois, are among his last designs and generally considered his finest. Sutcliffe was himself a devout Episcopalian, moving to Chicago in 1892, the year of the Columbian Exposition. Later he was commissioned to design St. Luke’s by the dynamic founding rector of the parish, the Rev. George Craig Stewart (1879-1940), Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago between 1930 and 1940.
After Sutcliffe’s untimely death in 1913, St. Luke’s was seen to completion by Thomas E. Tallmadge (1876-1940) from the eminent Chicago firm of Tallmadge & Watson. Tallmadge is also remembered as an educator and architectural historian, credited with coining (in 1908) the world-famous phrase “Chicago School of Architecture” to denote the styles of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and their followers, then emerging from the American heartland. Tallmadge was himself a resident of Evanston and former associate of Daniel J. Burnham. He is credited with the design of the Parish House and Battle Cloister, as well as many interior details within the main sanctuary and chapel.
The interiors of the Lady Chapel and the sanctuary are outfitted with a wide array of custom-designed and built furnishings and fixtures. The stained glass windows were produced by some of the most distinguished workshops based in the U.S. and the U.K., including the Willet Studios, Heaton, Butler, and Bayne, James Powell and Sons, and (William) Morris & Co.
The showpiece of the church interior is the great organ (Opus 327) designed by arguably the most celebrated of all American organ builders, Ernest M. Skinner (1866-1960), installed at St. Luke’s in 1922 and recently restored to its original glorious acoustic. On October 7, 2016, St. Luke’s was honored to host a recital on this historic instrument by M. Vincent Dubois, organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of St. Luke’s is the Battle Cloister, a semi-enclosed courtyard and arcade situated along Hinman Avenue between the main sanctuary and the Parish House. Unveiled in 1920, the cloister is intended to honor the memory of Evanston natives who fell during World War I, and whose names are inscribed on the west side of the cloister. Rev. Stewart was himself a combat veteran of the Great War. Numerous whimsical military details were added throughout the arcade by the Chicago German-American sculptor Emil Zettler (1878-1946), who taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and designed medals for the Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933. A memorial elm tree was planted in front of the arcade during the dedication and has stood there since. The names of Evanston natives who fell during World War II were later added to the east side of the cloister.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church thus combines the beautiful worship spaces of its sanctuary and Lady Chapel with the musical pedigree of its Skinner Organ and ongoing usage of its Parish House, along with the solemn war memorial of its Battle Cloister. With good reason, St. Luke’s has been included as a part the Evanston Open House tour series sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. We are proud to have this magnificent facility for purposes of both religious worship and community service.