Sometimes, old buildings have really interesting stories to tell if you have just a few additional bits of knowledge about them. Not that long ago, I found myself in an old church in Pasadena, California. It had been built in the style of European Renaissance cathedrals with lots of pointed arches, a high-vaulted ceiling, and lots of lovely stained glass windows. Those on the south side of the building would take on a beautiful luminescence whenever the late-morning sun would break through the usual LA gray haze.
Interesting bit about those stained glass windows, though; as they march from the front of the building to the back, suddenly, near the end of the structure, they suddenly stop being effervescent, glowing yellows, blues, reds, and greens, and become dull, uninteresting gray concrete. It’s hard to see why the builders would suddenly give up on one of the most interesting and beautiful features of the architecture. Until, that is, you learn one of those interesting bits of knowledge. It seems that the building was constructed in the 1920s, the roaring era of prosperity – albeit ever so shallow – when money flowed freely and everything was possible. In this climate, nothing seemed too good to adorn this building with. And then, 1929 happened. In that new climate, suddenly concrete seemed just fine. The story of the stained glass windows doesn’t make sense unless you know the story of what was going on in the broader economic life of the nation and the world. (more…)