In 1931 the city decided to put things straight – sort of – on Capitol Hill by not only “broadening Broadway” but by pivoting it too. Broadway Ave. got narrow north of Thomas Street and for most of the four blocks between Thomas and Roy Street it also turned a degree or two to the east.
The four-block straightening was a fussy bow to neatness. You can still study it in the irregular widths of the sidewalks that face those buildings on the west side of Broadway that were not pivoted with the avenue. However, the widening of the neighborhood’s principal commercial street made some sense, although many buildings on the east side of Broadway, like the brick store fronts shown here, had to be moved several feet east. But not Pilgrim Congregational Church.
The sanctuary, shown here at the northeast corner of Broadway and Republican, was built in 1906 on a narrow swamp long appreciated for its vocal ensemble of frogs before its chorus of Christians. The front yard was called the church’s “sunken garden.” It still sinks although since the avenue’s 1931 widening the garden is smaller. (Later the top of the church’s tower was removed after it was twisted by the 1949 earthquake.)
In 1906 the neighborhood around the church was filling at first with mostly single-family residences. Pilgrim got started in the 1880s as a Sunday school. By 1931 the broadening Broadway was faced by shops and the neighborhood was known for its apartment buildings, homes for couples that were often childless and/or secular.
A Rev. Dr. Edward Lincoln Smith was hired to help develop Pilgrim into the 20th Century as a place of worship. Perhaps it was not fair for a doctor of theology to then also enter a contest meant to extol the sublime qualities of the neighborhood where he was building a congregation. But that is was Smith did, and he won. Mixing church and real state his victory was announced in an Oct, 1901 advertisement by super-developer and contest originator James Moore who was rapidly opening his Capitol Hill additions south and east of Volunteer Park and thereby naming the entire neighborhood.
Smith wrote in part, “The charms of no other district are so abundant with riches. From this eminence, what is left in view to be desired?” The clergyman was more likely writing from the tower than from the garden.
(For more on the broadening of Broadway, see one of Paul’s earliest columns from March 11, 1984. Just click here)