Symphony Circle

There actually was a circle here once, like Soldiers’ and Gates’ Circles, which were all part of the vast urban jewelry of the Frederick Law Olmsted park system. The circle was obliterated to ease the flow of traffic through the intersection.

1-symphony-circleAt No. 1 Symphony Circle, Edward Green designed the present home of the First Presbyterian Church in 1889. The congregation, now 175 years old, first met in 1812, in a rude structure at what is now Shelton Square. The present church, built in the Romanesque style hugs the ground. Its vaulting arches enclose exquisite stained glass windows, while its stately copper-roofed campanile rises so high in the air that it can be seen from nearly any vantage point on the west side.

Across the street, at No. 33, stands the fully restored Birge Mansion, which was a candidate for demolition just four years ago. Built in 1897 for George Birge, the founder of the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, the Georgian style mansion was modeled on the lines of a villa Birge had seen on the Riviera. Two pavilions, cornered with stone quoins and housing palladian and tri-part windows, flank a center section which incorporates three round arched windows supported and separated by two tiers of Tuscan columns, and fronted by faux balustrades at the second floor. The carriage entrance on the north side has an arcaded porch and a fountain.

Across the circle, in 1939, Eliel Saarinen designed the Kleinhans Music Hall in the International style which increasingly found a home in the United States as war approached in Europe. The curvilinear outer walls create a womb-like core incorporating the great hall and the chamber music room. Extensions at either side of the great stage house the physical plant, while extensions at the other end of the structure contain the public entrances. It is no accident that the structure is shaped like a human being.

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