• Donald S. Yarab

A Brief History and Description of the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

On November 11, 2013, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that a “key gateway site at Cleveland's western edge could be redeveloped with a grocery store and other retailers, but that new investment requires the demolition of a long-vacant church that has eluded the wrecking ball since the early 1990s.” Of course, the referenced long-vacant church is the Edgewater community’s architecturally distinctive, historically landmarked Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, which was constructed in 1926.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History records that General Erastus N. Bates began organizing the Christian Scientists in Cleveland. The Longyear Museum website, at s , records that General Bates "was introduced to it in 1886 when he attended a lecture by Hannah Larminie of Chicago. Bates began taking on healing cases that year, and in December he wrote his son:

I am very busy now days and expect to open an office in the city soon. My success in all cases acute, or chronic, nervous or physical is remarkable so far. And I see no reason why it should not continue. When I say my success, I do not wish to imply that I am the healer, for I am only the instrument used by God in this work

General Bates began corresponding with Mrs. Eddy in 1887, took Primary class with her in 1888, then Normal class in 1889.

He was one of the few entrusted by Mrs. Eddy to teach at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, and later he did much to establish the Cause in Kansas City and Cleveland. Looking back, he would with an overflowing heart tell the crowd at Pleasant View, “I owe all that I am and all that I have to Christian Science.” In praise of this steadfast soldier, Mrs. Eddy would later recall him with fondness as “one of God’s own noblemen.”

His efforts resulted in the founding of Cleveland’s First Church of Christ, Scientist, in 1891. Cleveland proved to be especially fertile ground for the message of the Christian Scientists as the “First Church” was quickly followed by the formation of congregations for the Second Church in 1901, the Third Church in 1903, the Fourth Church in 1914, and the Fifth Church in 1920.

The Fifth Church congregation held its first public services in a hall at West 65th and Detroit Avenue before moving into the Fifth Church building on Lake Avenue and West 117th Street in 1926. The Fifth Church congregation worshiped at the site until 1989. After the congregation moved, Rini-Rego Supermarkets acquired the property and, in turn, sold it to the City of Cleveland in 2002 for a token sum. The building has remained empty and unused since despite several development proposals over the years.

The building was designed by architect Frank W. Bail, who was born in Wellsville, Ohio in 1891. Mr. Bail received his Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1917. During World War I, he served as a lieutenant in the army. He was severely wounded during the war and spent two years in army hospitals. After the war, he came back to Cleveland where he was employed as assistant City architect. In 1922, he established the Frank W. Bail Company. He left Cleveland during the Great Depression, moving to Fort Myers, Florida. He died in April 1964.

Mr. Bail designed the distinctive structure in a neoclassical style with the primary mass of the building shaped as an octagon, topped with a large central dome and cupola. The building has a basement and main floor, both totaling 22,300 square feet with the central auditorium designed to seat 900 persons. The main entrance portico to the northwest served as the formal entrance lobby to the building. Low wings along the south and southwest sides of the building provided a secondary entrance and reading room space as well as access to the social hall in the basement. A mechanical room to the south east was demolished in approximately 1998.

The exterior walls are clad in sandstone with a small area of the one-story wing clad in brick. The sandstone was quarried in Birmingham, Erie County, Ohio. The stone on the drum beneath the dome was painted over with a yellowish coating in 1991. The dome is clad in Luduwici clay roof tiles. The lobby has walls and pillars faced with Saint Genevieve Golden Vein marble (limestone from the Grand Tower Formation), quarried in Missouri, and flooring of pink Tennessee marble (limestone from the Holston Formation), quarried in eastern Tennessee. Floor trim, bases of pillars, and balusters are a black limestone with white streaks (veins and stylolites), possibly from Europe. The front (west) hallway had wainscoting of Saint Genevieve Golden Vein, with a border of black limestone along its base. The Saint Genevieve marble in both the lobby and the front hallway contains large corals, including horn corals several centimeters in diameter and colonial forms that are composed of groups of many smaller cylindrical individuals.

Because the City of Cleveland designated the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist a landmark building in 1995, any demolition or development is subject to the approval of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission. In the meantime, it survives as the only remaining example of a classically domed structure on the west side of Cleveland.

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