Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church
8900 35th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98115
The content below is from Docomomo US/WEWA’s Modern Sacred Spaces public tour of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church on September 10, 2016.
The First Church
A Catholic church was founded in Wedgwood in 1929 by the Jesuits of Seattle University, on a large tract of land purchased from Charles E. Thorpe. Mr. Thorpe’s log cabin was located at about NE 81st Street, just west of 35th Avenue NE, and after purchase by the Jesuits the cabin was used as a chapel. It was named St. Ignatius. The first Mass in the St. Ignatius chapel was held on November 24, 1929. An altar had been built in the chapel and eight pews installed for seating which was meant to accommodate about 50 people, but 128 people came to attend the first Mass.
By 1940, the Jesuits sold the St. Ignatius property to Albert Balch, the developer who turned the site into the first (original) Wedgwood housing tract. Shortly after the sale of the St. Ignatius property, Father Hugh Gallagher was appointed as the parish’s first resident pastor. Father Gallagher’s first task was to find a new site and build a church building. The parish purchased property on 35th Avenue NE at NE 89th Street, and within a very short time a small new brick church, designed by architect Paul Thiry, was built to accommodate 350 parishioners.
Because the church was now a Dominican parish rather than Jesuit, and because the church had moved to a new site, a name change was required. It was at a meeting of the Altar Society that the name “Our Lady of the Lake,” a reference to the beauty of Lake Washington, was first suggested. Father Gallagher especially liked the suggestion because his home church in Cleveland, Ohio, was also called Our Lady of the Lake. The new church with its new name was dedicated in February 1941.
By the end of the 1950s Our Lady at the Lake was expanding again, and a larger building was needed. No more land was available to enlarge the building, so in 1960 the decision was made to tear it down and rebuild a larger church on the same site. With new architects, the church would be designed to accommodate 800 people.
The Current Church
Gotteland & Koczarski were hired as architects, and their plans were authorized in November 1959. The architects stated that “Unity Is Key to Design” of the primary chapel space – a unity in the choice of materials, textures and colors evidenced in the structural frame, surrounding brick and stained glass windows.
As design lead, Koczarski was influenced by European churches, but was also interested in using modern materials, like high strength, pre-cast concrete. Tall, regularly spaced frames of reinforced concrete support the chapel roof, emphasizing openness and height on the interior. Though only 40 feet tall, the interior space feels much taller.
The brickwork surrounding the frames create a color and texture pattern from the use of lighter and darker bricks in different orientations. Stained glass, designed and imported from France, fills the space above the brick with its own color and texture aesthetic. Smaller, repetitive arches of thin shell concrete surround the exterior spaces – giving the church complex a distinctively modern profile.
The outstanding exterior feature is a bell tower, again, a link with tradition. The bell tower, used to call the faithful to worship, consists of four precast, pre-stressed concrete members supporting a 15-foot aluminum cross. Below the cross are three decorative aluminum bells covered in gold leaf.
Gotteland was quoted: “Seattle churches are among the best show cases for modern architecture, even though the architect often has one foot in the past.” Indeed the final design references not only the soaring chapels of Europe, but also, through the elevated clerestory, the modest Thiry church that preceded it on site.
The church was dedicated in March 1961.
Gotteland & Koczarski, The Architects
Roger Jacques Gotteland was born in Paris, France in 1914 and naturalized as a U.S. Citizen in 1940. His formal architectural training began at the Ecole des Beaux Arts where he obtained a diploma from the National Society of French Architects. After arriving in the United States, he acquired additional training from the University of Washington in the Department of Architecture. Gotteland gained valuable experience while working in the architectural offices of Thiry & Shay from 1936 to 1940. His earliest known work in Seattle is the International style Savinoff Furniture Studio (1946) at 217 9th Avenue in Seattle. Perhaps his best known work, the Dr. John Lehmann House (1951), was featured in the 1953 book, Practical Houses for Contemporary Living.
Roy Koczarski was an immigrant from Poland and came to the U.S. as a foreign student to study at the University of Washington in the early 1950s. He studied under Lionel Pries, who he considered a mentor. Shortly after graduation in 1952, he joined Gotteland’s existing independent practice first as a draftsman from 1952-1958, then as design partner starting in 1959 and the name was changed to Gotteland and Koczarski. By 1959, Gottleand was transitioning into a more managerial role in the office and Koczarski was put in charge of the church design for the office.
Other known projects by Gotteland & Associates include the Palisades Retreat Center (1956) in Federal Way, the Seamen’s Club (1957) in Seattle, Visitation Retreat House for Women (1957) in Seattle, St. Luke’s Church & School (1957) in Shoreline, the Harvard Avenue Apartments (1958) which was featured in Architectural Record, Sacred Heart Church in Morton (1962), St. Joseph Church in Lynden (1963), Egan Hall at St. John Church (1963) in Seattle, and St. Madeleine Sophie (1971) in Bellevue.
Our Lady of the Lake, completed in 1961, remains one of the firm’s signature works.