Our mission is twofold: To preserve and celebrate The Old Church as a historic and vital architectural structure; and, to best utilize its inherent qualities as a performance space by creating, fostering and promoting programs that reflect and enhance the artistic and cultural life of the community.
The Old Church at S.W. 11th and Clay has been a Portland landmark since its completion in 1883. Concerts, conferences, exhibitions, and weddings are but a few of the activities it houses, while the building itself serves as a continuing essay in volunteer historic preservation through the nonprofit Old Church Society, Inc.
When fifty Presbyterians organized a new congregation in Portland in 1882, they engaged architect Warren Williams to design a structure combining the spare simplicity of their denomination with the grandeur of their aspirations. Williams’ rendering of classic ecclesiastical forms in wood produced a striking example of Carpenter Gothic which served Presbyterian and Baptist congregations until 1967. (A more detailed history is also available.)
A heroic effort led by concerned and generous citizens saved the building from destruction; and in 1969 The Old Church Society, Inc. took possession and began restoring the landmark. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, it no longer is a dedicated church, but serves Portland as a unique community facility.
A year in construction, The Old Church was build on a site donated by one of its founders, W.S. Ladd. The original color of gray-brown reflected Gothic stonework which the Carpenter Gothic style recreates in wood. Ornate window traceries, archways and buttresses blend happily with chimneys, spires and more indigenous touches; the “wedding ring” nestled on the bell tower, and the recently rebuild porte-cochere at the Clay Street entrance.
The building’s windows embody numerous aspects of the glass maker’s art. Most of the windows are leaded, stained or frosted glass works by Povey Bros. of Portland. Particularly noteworthy is the Templeton window on Clay Street, a rendering of the Matthew 6:28 verse, “Consider the Lilies.”
The Old Church’s interior abounds in detail. In the Entry, for example, is a characteristic local touch; two built-in umbrella racks (capacity 92) with drains.
From the Entry one passes directly into the Auditorium. Cast iron Corinthian columns support a vaulted ceiling with plaster ribs painted the color of stone. The gentle curve of the hand-carved fir pews, broken by aisles sloping to the stage and the spacing of the columns, gives and intimacy to the hall that belies its 350-person capacity.
Original fittings abound: the ornate floor heating grills, door hinges and handles, elaborate plaster window moldings. The focal point of the Auditorium, however, is the Hook & Hastings tracker action pipe organ given to the church at its founding by the Ladd family and now a favorite of those attending the Old Church’s weekly lunchtime concerts.
Adjoining the Auditorium is Kinsman Hall, a meeting, reception and exhibition area with a high, arched ceiling bounded by gingerbread molding. Just off the Hall, through the original sliding doors, is the Lannie Hurst Parlour, a smaller meeting and reception area notable for its colorful stenciled ceiling, based on period designs.
Throughout Kinsman Hall and the Hurst Parlour are examples of late Victorian furniture from the 1880s. The hall tree, with its mirrors, coat racks, umbrella stands and velvet seats, survives the 1880 Jacobs mansion. Nearby is the complete dining room set from the recently restored Kamm House of 1871. The set includes carved buffet, oval table, and ten needlepoint-covered chairs.
In the Parlour are a matched settee and arm chairs, library table, and a smaller settee, also from the Kamm estate. Other pieces, on loan from individuals and collections, are exhibited from time to time, providing visitors with more examples of domestic furnishing from a century ago.
Gifts, financial or material, supplement The Old Church Society’s income from rentals and grants from foundations. Such help for restoration, maintenance, and increased public use is gratefully received, and can be acknowledged in a variety of ways as restoration of particular aspects of the building continues. Contributions are tax exempt; if you are interested, please contact the Old Church office.
The Old Church Society presents free, weekly sack lunch recitals in the Auditorium every Wednesday at noon plus special concerts, exhibitions, meetings and fairs throughout the year (a current calendar of events is available). The building is also available for weddings and commitment ceremonies, receptions, programs, conferences and other private gatherings by arrangement with the Old Church office. Use of the building by as many groups and individuals as possible is encouraged, as are visits to tour the building during open hours (11am to 3pm, Monday through Friday).