A foundational and historic local architect

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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The church I attend is Forest Park Baptist Church. The original architect of the Church's building is H G Fiddelke who was born in 1865 and died in 1931. In my weekly attendance of the church I've experienced the interplay of light and space of Fiddelke's architecture all framed with warm oak wood and stained glass and this prompted me to research Fiddelke's architectural work and his personal biography. The more I researched the more I realized that H. G. Fiddelke was foundational to the society in which he lived, he was foundational in his personal life and he was foundational in his architectural style.

Fiddelke was foundational in a social context because he was the architect of buildings that were critical to this local community. In Oak Park he was the architect of the original Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School and he was the architect of the original State Bank of Oak Park that was at the corner of Lake and Marion. Fiddelke's architecture also reflected the prosperity of the time. The quality of his architecture caught the eye of Grace Hemingway, Earnest Hemingway's mother who grew up near a Fiddelke designed house. When it came time for her and her husband to build their house, she tapped Fiddelke to be the architect. He designed and built the Hemingway boyhood home on Kenilsworth. Another example of Fiddelke's impressive work is the Hales Mansion at the corner of Chicago and Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park.

The word foundational also describes the steadfastness of Fiddelke's personal life.  He was a lifelong husband to his wife, Augusta. They had two children. Fiddelke was a long-time active member of Forest Park Baptist Church then called the German Baptist Church. In 1923 Fiddelke was part of the missions planting committee that organized a mission in a vacant store in Bellwood, Illinois. He also donated the beautiful stained-glass window that today still graces the north wall of the church. It would be in this church Fiddelke's funeral services would be held in 1931 officiated by then Pastor, Reverend Theo Dons.

Fiddelke's architecture was foundational in construction and style. All of Fiddelke's buildings are invested with solidity, gravity and grandeur. His buildings are rarely if ever of modest proportions but are instead wide and expansive. Fiddelke provided an exceptionally tall steeple for what is now Forest Park Baptist Church. The opulent Hales Mansion is built of brick and limestone. The front façade of the State Bank of Oak Park included ornate brickwork and tall Greek columns.

The Miriam Webster dictionary defines the word integrity as "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values." I personally believe H.G. Fiddelke was a man whose life had a high moral standing and whose architecture had a high aesthetic value. I also believe the solidity and permanence of his architecture is an expression of the solidity and permanence of his faith. You can see for yourself if you agree. I am giving a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Fiddelke: where is he?" which examines the architecture and life of this foundational man. This free hour-long presentation is open to the public and will be held at Forest Park Baptist Church at 133 Harlem Avenue Forest Park, Il on Saturday April 27 at 11 pm and you're invited.

Michael J. Thomas

Oak Park Resident

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