The First Methodist Episcopal Church Sanctuary occupies the Northeast corner of the block bounded by Fifth Avenue and Marion Streets in downtown Seattle. Measuring 165 feet by 114 feet at its base, the building has a stone foundation and a façade of pressed brick and terra cotta. Its form is that of a rectangular box surmounted by a 66 foot high red tiled dome that is 64 feet in diameter.
Stylistically, the building follows Beaux Arts classical principles, borrowing as it does elements of the early Roman, Byzantine, and Renaissance periods. Visually, the central plan and the circular dome recall churches on the order of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople (c.525) or Saint Vitale in Ravenna (c. 525-548), both of which have centralized structures and give the impression from the outside that they are squares enclosing octagons. Later Byzantine churches, such as that in the monestary of Hosios Loukas at Phocis in Greece, dating from the first half of the eleventh century, borrowed heavily from these sixth century models.
The First Methodist Episcopal Church, in its Beaux Arts styling and its combining of individual functional elements into a harmonious whole, relied upon Roman and even Palladian Renaissance building forms. As such, it was a marked departure from late nineteenth and early twentieth century American churches that were generally modeled after Gothic architecture. The original Seattle Methodist Church's building was a notable example of this. The first building was a clapboard country Gothic church with a square bell tower; the second, at Third and Marion Street, was a more substantial English Gothic church, complete with tower and steeple.
On August 17, 1907, Pacific Builder and Engineer noted that "the style of architecture (of the new church at Fifth and Marion) is a departure from the old Gothic, the sharp pointed windows and tall spires are conspicuous by their absence, and the church goer is forced to accept, along with the twentieth century testament, the architecture of the twentieth century. Some are loathe to depart from the old, but the chaste simplicity of the new is more in keeping with the subject. The able young firm of Schack and Huntington, have handled their design with much credit to themselves". This statement, ironically, views the move away from the neo-Gothic and the return to neo-Classicism as a "progressive" architectural movement reflecting twentieth century values.
The above noted article also described the structure as planned at the time, being finished in red pressed brick with semi-glazed terra cotta. At some point closer to construction, a paler, beige toned brick was substituted for the planned red brick. Another change also occurred because the church was concerned over a possible Fifth Avenue regrade. The building was set several feet back from the street on the lot to give "an opportunity for conforming more gracefully to whatever grade is adapted in the future."
The building's position on the side hill just above the Rainier Club, necessitated expensive foundation work. The basement and sub-basement were constructed of reinforced concrete. Resting upon this foundation were large concrete columns, 72 feet high, that supported the dome. For 42 feet, these columns had no lateral supports. The distance from the auditorium floor to the top of the dome measured 66 feet, and the diameter of the dome was 64 feet. The main auditorium had a seating capacity of 1,224, and galleries could accommodate 600 additional parishioners. Classrooms, a suite for the pastor, a parlor, a banquet hall, a kitchen, and other conveniences were included in the basement.
The building's major interior space is the auditorium, approximately three floors in height with four exedrae or recesses; these provide seating on the main floor and three seating galleries on the north, south, and east walls. The west wall alcove houses the organ. Three sectioned, arched, beige-toned opalescent glass windows embellish the side walls of these arched recesses. At each of the four corners of the church are 1 1/2 story high vestibules containing staircases leading to balcony or basement areas. These vestibules are expressed honestly as small square appendages to the main interior space.
The central dome, rising 66 feet above the main floor, consists of a ring of pairs of narrow arched, colored glass clearstory windows. These windows are not seen from the outside; rather, they are reflected by rectangular, tripartite windows with transoms that appear on the outside of the domed section. Furthermore, the circular or cylindrical character of the interior space is not directly expressed on the exterior, which is segmental in form. The exterior of the dome, modeled after the Roman models, is surfaced in an orange/red-toned tile.
The church is faced in beige brick with lighter, cream-colored terra cotta trim. The trim includes single or double rows of horizontal bands at the base and at the top of the building. All windows are surrounded by terra cotta molding, lintels, and sills. In the case of the auditorium opalescent glass windows, terra cotta pilasters compose the mullions. Similar pilasters appear between the vine relief entablatures separating the first floor and balcony windows.
The four rectangular sections that comprise the auditorium are framed by a cornice composed of high bas relief terra cotta in a vine pattern. The identical relief patterned molding surrounds the edge of the segmental dome. A slightly different vine patterned band cornice wraps around the lower vestibule housings at the four corners of the building, and frame the doorways on the north and south vestibule entrances. The three sets of central entrance doors on Fifth Avenue are separated by pilasters. Above the two sets of side doors, also in terra cotta, are vine-covered entablatures with crosses and the Roman numerals indicating the date of dedication of the church, 1908. Over the central door is a pediment with a similar vine high relief inset.
The following description of the building is taken from the National Register Nomination prepared in 1984
by Larry Kreisman, the noted Seattle architectural preservationist