Two decades after their glory days, Frank Lloyd Wright church’s iconic light beams will rise again this Saturday.
Community Christian Church on the east end of the Country Club Plaza has installed four brand-new xenon light cannons with the help of Strong Lighting of Omaha, the company that installed the lights arch in St. Louis and on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The lights—shot from the roof, they form a steeple of light—had a long, slow decline from their early 90s debut. The old light cannons on the roof of the church had grown so cloudy and dim that they just left them dark pending a costly, time-intensive restoration.
“We quit turning the lights on in the fall of 2019, they’d kind of been temperamental for years,” says Rev. Shanna Steitz. “So it will have been a long time since they were on in their full glory.”
The iconic church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of only ten Wright-designed churches in the country. The lights themselves aren’t Wright’s vision—rather they’re the design of the late Dale Eldred, a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute.
“We always like to point out that this is not Wright’s original design,” Steitz says. Wright wanted ten to twelve lights pointed in a variety of directions. “It would be a real challenge to do that in an urban area like we are today,” she says. “So that’s not what we created—it’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, but it’s Dale Eldred’s design.”
One of the cannons was tested briefly last weekend, but the first full lighting will be this Saturday, May 8, at about 8:40 pm. The event is timed to the church’s return to in-person worship on Sunday.
While much of the congregation has been involved in the restoration project, Steitz says they also wanted to set up a separate non-profit, Wright on Main, that is dedicated to the maintenance of the historic church. Non-church members have also been generous in raising money and donating time to the project.
“This historic building is more than just ours, it really does belong to the community,” says Steitz.
One interesting note: No one is quite sure how far the beams will be visible. It could be three or four miles, depending on elevation and the amount of city light.
“One of our associate ministers was out on a Bird scooter looking all around the Plaza and they were visible all over,” Steitz says. “But we’re not really sure how far away you’ll be able to see them.”
Steitz is hoping that people will send over photos and notes about how far away people can see them.
The church will be congregating on the top of the Jack Stack parking garage to watch the lights fire up. The roof of any other garage on the Plaza should be good, Steitz says, based on their tests.
“The weather is not supposed to be great Saturday, but we’ll turn it on regardless,” she says. “We’ve told too many to put it off now.”