Thorncrown Chapel celebrates 32 years

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 517 views 

EUREKA SPRINGS — Last year, fist-sized hail heavily damaged the roof of Thorncrown Chapel, an architectural masterpiece that had withstood other deadly forces of nature since it was finished June 12, 1980.

Miraculously, none of the chapel’s 425 windows were broken during the 2011 storm. But the family of the man who championed the chapel from its inception, retired California school teacher Jim Reed, took the opportunity to update the chapel with new pews and doors while fixing the roof.

Those improvements, along with the 32nd anniversary of the chapel, will be observed with private and public observances today (June 12). The public will have the opportunity to meet Reed’s wife, Dell, who lived with him in a nearby hillside structure before he died 20 years ago, and the couple’s son, Doug Reed, who had been pastor at Thorncrown for 29 years.

More than 8,000 weddings and 25,000 other services have taken place in the building since 1980. Over 6 million people have come to see its native woodland beauty.

The chapel was designed by the distinguished architect and University of Arkansas professor E. Fay Jones, as well as others working with Jones, such as Maurice Jennings.

“The architectural firm wanted to do something that would bring nature into the design,” Jennings said of Thorncrown.

Jerry LaBounty, the original contractor for the chapel, is also expected to attend today’s celebrations.

“The pews were original when the chapel was built,” said LaBouny, “and about every 15 years they replace the front doors. The front doors have obtained lots of UV damage over time, and today we have some clear finishes that can stop the damage.”
The chapel is 48 feet tall with over 6,000 square feet of glass. The foundation consists of more than 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone, allowing it to blend in with its rocky surroundings. A ridged skylight filters woodland light, which Jones maintained was the chapel’s most important design element. Steel forms a diamond-shaped pattern in its wooden trusses.

In 2006, Thorncrown received the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Twenty-five Year Award for architectural design. It took the 1990 AIA Gold Medalist Award in 1990 and the national AIA Honor Award in 1981. It was chosen fourth on the AIA’s Top 10 list of 20th-century structures.

Reed’s inspiration came from the glass Wayfarers Chapel in Los Angeles, designed by Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright.

“This building was the first chapel by E. Fay Jones and the first project for Jerry LaBounty as a general contractor” said Jennings.

The public part of today’s celebration will be 3-5 p.m. in the parking lot of the chapel.