Tuesday, June 23, 2009

E. Fay Jones: Marty Leonard Chapel (Exterior)

(All rights reserved 2009) The following photos are all my own work, but are free for non-commercial use so long as I am credited. Larger, uncropped, higher resolution images are available upon request. Please contact me if you have a desire to use them in any commercial work.

Fort Worth, Texas is blessed enough to have five buildings designed by AIA Gold Medalists Philip Johnson, Louis Kahn, I.M. Pei, Tadao Ando, and E. Fay Jones. On the Southwest corner of I-30 and Hulen, is one of these remarkable gems of brilliant architecture, landscaping, and design recognized worldwide: The Marty Leonard Chapel. Designed by E. Fay Jones, the Chapel, known locally as "The Community Chapel" or sometimes as "The Lena Pope Chapel," will be quite familiar to anyone who is familiar with the Thorn Crown Chapel in Eureka Springs Arkansas.

Jones, who left this world on Aug 31, 2004, was able to achieve something most of us could only ever dream of: having our childhood hero as a Mentor. When he was a young boy, Jones was inspired to go into Architecture after watching a matinee film about a Frank Lloyd Wright building. Later on he would study under Wright and achieve world renown, despite having no desire to become a Starchitect. But even a brief glimpse of his works on photos are enough to recognize just how well he has mastered the art.

With most structures, one could be content showing merely a few interior photos and perhaps a few outside perspectives. But to fully understand why the Marty Leonard Chapel is so beloved and important, one must follow the great circle around it. Jones not only understood the concept of denial and reward, he helped to define it, and considered it an absolutely essential aspect of great architecture. From the Freeway and shopping center northeast of The Chapel, one is gifted with a select angle. But the further to either side one travels around, the more obscured The Chapel becomes, its entry and true face hidden from view.

By the time one enters the parking lot, the Chapel may only be glimpsed between brief gaps in the trees. Instead, a small monument stands near the entrance.

A serene, beautifully crafted bronze statue of Conrad Pope stands atop a base that reads:
"Beyond The Blue"
Conrad Pope, 1908-1914
Son of Ewell and Lena Holston Pope
Young Conrad was the
inspiration for "MOM" Pope's
passion in serving orphans and
children in need.
Circle of Hope is the legacy to
continue her dream.

Beside and beyond the monument is a gently meandering path that gives only fleeting glimpses of The Chapel.

Jones referred to this as "The Path of Life." The philosophy is that one can see where one is at all times, but may only see brief glimpses of where one is going between the gaps. Looking back, you see where you came from, though how you remember it, and how it looks now, are two very different views. It is a beautiful rendering of the denial and reward system, and gives us incredible insight into the mind of E. Fay Jones.

Finally, the path comes to an end directly in front of a beautiful set of waterworks, the design and acoustics of which are such that it is not heard until you are right upon it. The sound is gentle, not overpowering, but is such that it fills the entire plaza in front of the chapel with a calming background noise that drowns out the noise of traffic beyond as well as allowing for privacy in conversation mere feet away.

And, turning left, one is finally rewarded with the first true look at the front of The Chapel. Even still, the entirety of it cannot be fully seen in one go. Only the most flattering angle is ever revealed by the foliage at any given time. Stepping onto the plaza, one feels like they have just stepped into another land: one of serenity, calm, and contemplation. The effect is exactly like that of a small chapel in the wooded clearing...

...while at the same time offering a quiet sense of majesty. The Chapel is very light on adornment. There are no angels, crosses, stars, or crescents carved into the woodwork. Instead, the same geometric patterns are used and reinforced throughout the entire structure. As the congregation faces in an easterly direction, and there is not a stitch of figurative art in the entire chapel, one could hold Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or services of any other denomination quite easily. But we will save the interior for tomorrow's entry. Back to the exterior...

The courtyard plaza area is small and unassuming. It allows for a wide processional: indeed, five full-grown men can easily walk abreast towards the front doors from the fountain. And yet it feels like a small and intimate setting. Off to the sides are little protrusions into the garden, each providing just enough separation of space to give those standing there privacy from the other protrusions. The generous foliage gives ample shade, which on a 100+ degree summer day is absolutely more than welcome.

Jones, like Wright, designed everything down to the trash cans and these external lights are a testament to the continuation of theme throughout the garden. They are just unobtrusive enough to be easily dismissed by the eye, and yet beautiful enough to impress when stared at directly. Yet, even to do so, one is treated to another view of the surroundings they might not have seen before.

We the "Home Kids" dedicate this living memorial
on this first annual homecoming day to our
beloved Mom Pope. In appreciation for her many
years (1930) of dedicated caring, loving, and
teaching us in all things to do our best. We
thank also the many sponsors of Mrs. Pope and
The Lena Pope Home for their never ending support.

1880 - 1976
Lena Pope Home Alumni Assn
Dedicated on
July 4, 1976

Truthfully, I had never given much thought to who Lena Pope was, or the story behind why this Chapel was created, or much else on the history... but after having read this and the other memorial plaques and monuments lovingly dedicated throughout the yards, I will now have to find out who this incredible woman was. And note the chapel was dedicated on the 200th Anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Even the sides of The Chapel were designed with a great purpose in mind. There are multiple entrances on each side, allowing for quiet entry to the chapel from the congregation, or as an entrance in front of the congregation.

Each side is well-shaded with plenty of room for anyone waiting for their cue to watch for it, unseen by the crowd within. Say, a group of groomsmen, for instance, waiting for the officiant to subtly beckon them forth.

The congregation is well-shaded on the sides, while still allowing plenty of light in through the incredible slant-pane design of the windows. The effect works incredibly well, bathing the sides in indirect light.

And as any good architecture should do, it makes art of the surrounding area. Despite having a freeway and a shopping outlet just down the hill, from the cool shade, it looks like a relaxing, pleasant view...

...almost as if one were looking down at a small, quaint village.

At last, the doors to the chapel, with their own unique design leading to an even more unique interior, which we will examine tomorrow.

(ed. Special thanks to Charles for the correction about how many AIA gold medal buildings there are.)


  1. Thank you for your wonderful write up of the Marty Leonard Community Chapel. I'm on staff at Lena Pope Home and it's always wonderful when we hear and/or read about something like this. And your pictures are great!!!

  2. You are most welcome, and thank you for letting us take the photos. There are more to come tomorrow, of the interior.

  3. Beautiful pictures Brandon, and a really great write up. Thank you so much, your love of the building shines through loud and clear.

    One non Marty Leonard Chapel correction though, Ft. Worth has five bulidngs designed by AIA Gold Medal winners: Tadao Ando, who designed the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth, was awarded the Gold Medal in 1992.

  4. Thank you, Charles, for both the compliment and the correction. I have corrected the article. I'll probably end up doing another Historic Dallas spread this weekend, since we'll be in Dallas anyway, but I can't wait to cover the remaining three gold medal buildings.

  5. Hi again Brandon,

    Hey, Ft. Worth is now about to have SIX building designed by AIA Gold Medal winners. The new Ft. Worth Museum of Science and History was designed by Ricardo Legoretta, the 2000 winner of the Gold Medal. I believe it opens in November, I already love it.

    "Cowtown," huh? Maybe "Archi-town" would be better?


My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog