The origins of this building, formerly known as the First Christian Church in Urbana, date back to 1892 when the original First Christian Church was built and dedicated right across the street. In 1908 however, it became apparent that the facilities required by the growing congregation were not being met, so the pastor at the time, Reverend Hornbaker, led the charge to erect a modern and more spacious alternative. Joseph Royer, a prolific Urbana architect designed the prairie style temple and contractor C. E. Smith built it at the cost of 25,000.The membership of the congregation donated an unheard of 11,000 towards the project which was dedicated a year later in 1909 with a sizable prayer gathering led by Reverend Robert Harris. In 1968 the church merged with others in Champaign, becoming the Community United Church of Christ, and finally a decade later the Canaan Missionary Baptist Church.
The Church is particularly significant in terms of its design and construction. It is the first entirely concrete structure in Urbana, using concrete blocks manufactured by local Somers Brothers. It is also the first prairie style building designed by Joseph Royer, who built predominantly in the classical revival style with few other modern counterparts. Over the years it has been host to community gatherings, a Sunday school, and the Local Lincoln Legion.
BUILDING DESIGN INTENTIONS:
The design by Joseph Royer was a blend of both craftsman and prairie styles. The prairie style began taking root in Illinois and neighboring Midwest states during this time thanks to the efforts of Frank Lloyd Wright. In the decades past, however, Royer worked primarily in the classical revival style, after the prominent Chicago World’s Fair, but this project would prove his versatility while also answering a design requirement. The church was to be an embodiment of Urbana’s growth and transition into the modern age, so naturally Royer reflected this in his modern design.
The most prominent features of the design include the tall rectangular tower adorned with small overhangs above a system of louvers, the flat roofline accented by horizontal rows of windows, and of course the concrete masonry construction painted in contrasting colors of light cream and tan.
BUILDING TYPE + PROGRAM:
The First Christian Church, now the Caanan Missionary Baptist Church, was to serve primarily as a place of worship and public gathering. The design incorporated movable walls and sliding doors to accommodate for varying programs in the same space. This included classrooms for Sunday school teaching, or a large auditorium for sermons and other social occasions.
FIRM PHILOSOPHY / HISTORY:
Joseph Royer was born in Urbana, Graduating the University of Illinois in 1895 with a degree in architecture. He then served as Urbana’s city engineer until 1906 when he started the Firm of Royer and Brown. From there the firm exchanged partners over time, but Royer was always constant. Over the years the design style also changed, matching the trends in society. Before his retirement Royer headed over 150 projects in the CU area and neighboring Midwest states, displaying predominantly his mastery of Queen Anne, but also Historic and Academic Revival styles. In fact he has designed so much of Urbana, the local newspaper joked that the town should be renamed “Royerville”
Urbana Lincoln Hotel
Flat Iron Building
Champaign County Courthouse
Sheriff’s Residence and Jail
First Presbyterian Church
Tiernan Building, Urbana