take me to (drive-in) church
A look at another Lundy landmark.
Emblematic of America's automobile age, Victor Lundy's drive-in design for the Venice-Nokomis Presbyterian Church was a spiritual space for an era of convenience and change. Situated on an 8.5-acre tract in Nokomis, Florida, the simple glass church was nestled between the lanky pines, its transparent facade making Sunday service accessible from the comfort of an automobile. In 1953, with little money to commission a traditional sanctuary, the members of the newly formed church decided to build a temporary structure where local parishioners and vacationers alike could attend from their own cars. Though the idea of a drive-in church may seem like a novelty today, these unconventional places of worship were something of a Florida phenomenon. Responding to the state's postwar population boom, increased tourism (which resulted in large numbers of worshipers during the winter and smaller numbers in the summer), and the warm tropical climate, a handful of churches turned to drive-in facilities to meet their shifting needs. Though some congregations utilized already existing drive-in theaters for Sunday services, members of the Venice Presbyterian Church looked to Sarasota architect Victor Lundy (who had recently moved to the area) to design a glass sanctuary in the trees.
Wrapped in glass and covered with a shed-like roof, Lundy's two-story pavilion in the woods was an impressive (and affordable) solution to the new congregation's untraditional request. The church, which only cost $7,600 to build, measured fourteen by twenty-nine feet with the lower level containing room for Sunday school classes and the glass-enclosed second floor consisting of the pulpit and a small area for the choir and organ. With this elevated, maybe even spiritual, transparency, mobile worshipers could easily view the pastor in his pulpit, almost like a bird perched high in his tree. Outside of the church, the carefully landscaped grounds could accommodate 100 cars, each parking space equipped with a small speaker to broadcast the sermon. On April 4, 1954, the Venice-Nokomis Presbyterian Church held its first service at the newly erected house of worship. Though Reverend Robert White (the church's first pastor) had some initial misgivings about an automobile-centric structure, the outdoor venue was a success, later appearing in a 1955 issue of Life magazine.
As the popularity of the Venice Presbyterian drive-in church grew, so too did the congregation and soon, a more spacious and flexible building was needed. A new fellowship hall was completed in 1959, and following damage to the glass structure during Hurricane Donna (1960), members moved to replace the original building with a larger complex. According to church history, the Lundy-designed pavilion was eventually dismantled and carried by boat to nearby Thornton Island.
Though the drive-in church no longer exists, the Life magazine article highlighting the unusual sanctuary is still an important part of the historical record. Glossy photographs showing a vibrant young pastor speaking to tidy rows of American automobiles reveal just how remarkable Lundy's design remains. The simple glass box set among the Florida pine trees combined the appeal of car-friendly culture with traditional worship, bringing modern architecture and modern spirituality to the masses.
You can read more about Lundy on claass HAUS here, here, here, and here.
Image at top:
Florida Memory Project, State Library and Archives of Florida.
10/29/2018 03:38:49 pm
Thank you, Trisha. It's a really fascinating building. And thanks for reading!
12/31/2019 12:21:02 pm
My uncle, Alec Bowles, was minister at this church, I think after he retired as Army Captain as chaplain. My family trekked from Virginia to Florida in early '60s for a visit. It was quite the trip with no interstates! I remember attending services here. I was only around 7 but thought it was a great idea and as I age think it is still a good idea (for different reasons lol)
1/7/2020 10:00:54 am
Wow, very cool. It's too bad the church isn't still around- I would love to have seen it. Thanks for reading and sharing your story.
3/12/2020 12:36:54 pm
I remember it well. Imagine a teenage boy sitting in a car with his mother forcing him to sing with a croaking voice?
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