ZION HISTORY : THE VIRTUAL TOUR
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THE NEW CHURCH
In February 1903, Pastor Julius Hofmann had submitted suggestions for fundamental changes in the interior of the church, but when the question of a possible removal came up, he withdrew them, hoping for an entirely new building. Five years later his original plans were taken up again and realized within a few months.
The redecoration of the interior was carried out according to the pastor's plans. It is a testimony to his artistic taste and conception. Every section of the walls, every touch of color had its meaning. "It is one of the unforgettable experiences of my life that my congregation feels like me about our church. May I say what I endeavored to create? Without making essential changes I wanted to create a space in which the old simple gaslight and the stoves with their long black pipes would be bearable. Now, they don't hurt any more, they belong there. Secondly, everything should be genuine: no imitations of marble. It is simple, painted wood. The color was demanded by the shade of the wall, which should reflect a friendly quiet light in the morning hours. The iron pillars which bear the emporen were covered up, for the naked iron was cold and sober."
Three designs from his own hand were the only decorations: the rose of Christmas as the symbol of joy, vines and ears of grain representing the Last Supper, and olive and oak branches, symbolizing "Evangelic" and "German." In the center above the altar he placed the man who brought evangelic faith back to men: Martin Luther. The painting of the reformer is a copy of the Luther portrait by Lukas Cranach. It was painted by William C. Rost, a member of Zion Church.
All this work was completed in time for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the erection of Zion Church. But Pastor Hofmann's plans went further. After it became certain that Zion was to remain in the heart of the city despite all temptation to move the church, he conceived the idea of adding a Gcmeindehaus (parish house). There was much opposition at first. Most members abhorred the idea of going into debt for something that the church had gone without for such a long time. But through the foresight, zeal and genius of the pastor, even the most critical men and women were finally convinced of the importance of the project.
For Pastor Hofmann, the congregational life apart from the Sunday services was of utmost significance. Many new members, immigrants like all the generations before, needed a focal point for their social and spiritual life. If Zion Church could provide a home for this life, they were won. Their children would be won, too. With a rare vision he recognized the advantages which the location of Zion offered for such an undertaking. City planners were full of schemes to convert the ugly space eastward of the City Hall into a Civic Center. Discussion dragged along for years. All kinds of fantastic plans were designed. Some wanted to pattern the square upon the Place Vcndome of Paris; others were for the erection of grandiose monuments. Pastor Julius Hofmann did not wait for the decision of the city planners.
He was often seen pacing back and forth, making sketches, taking notes. After a while he summoned an architect and went to work on the civic center himself. He made a small-scale model of the parish house as he had conceived it. Theodore Pietsch, his architect, presented the estimate: a staggering amount. In 1909 the pastor submitted plans and estimates to the Church Council. After some deliberation, the Council approved the project unanimously, expressing an enthusiasm which reminds us of the men who
carried out the building of the church in 1807-08. The Council, however, made one condition: the amount of $25,000 had to be in hand before the construction could be undertaken.
Built of red brick in the Hanseatic style, its tower inspired a well-known writer to exclaim: "This Is the German cathedral of Baltimore." With its arcades and the low-walled garden at the northeast corner of Holliday and Lexington streets, it was the first part of the beautiful Baltimore Civic Center of today. For Zion, the Parish House has become the tangible evidence of the inherent strength, ambition and right to existence of the Lutheran congregation which located here 200 years ago, along the marshy meadows of Jones' Falls. In the years past, during two World Wars and during peace the Gemeindekaus has been a thing of incalculable value to the very life of the church.
Pastor Hofmann sent to Germany for the three-bell chime that hangs in the tower. He commissioned his friend Hans Schuler to carve an eagle for the parish hall entrance: the American eagle with a shield on its heart depicting the German eagleóa symbol of the German immigrant at the heart of America. The pastor himself took a hand in interior decoration and painted the walls of the room designated for the smallest children.
When the Parish House was opened, a mortgage of $35,000 was still to be paid. There was much fear that the load was heavier than the congregation could bearóbut on November 9, 1924, the debt was finally paid, and Zion rejoiced with its pastor on that memorable day.
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