Six Shells and a Ship

Try saying that fast six times–six shells and a ship–sick shells and a ship shix shells shin a ship shick shells shi sha shick…maybe you did better than me.  –Debbie

M. S, Berlin

M. S, Berlin, passage to Europe

After I had completed St. Edmund’s, another office a couple doors up the street from my space in the back of the food broker became available. I rented the whole thing which was equal to the space the food broker and I had previously shared. I remember I had two drafting spaces on one half and I put up a little partition of sorts down the center making a space for a conference room. And now I had room for my own secretary who worked part time along with a ditto machine for my specs. From there we went to mimeograph which was a big improvement.

One afternoon, not long after I was settled in, a man stopped by my new office.

“Can I speak to Mr. Wenzler?”

“I’m Mr. Wenzler.”

“Well, can I speak to your father?”

“He’s not here. What do you want?”

He didn’t think I was old enough. He told me he had seen my church in the newspaper and he wanted to meet me to see if we could work on something together. His name was Karl Giehl.

Karl introduced himself as a designer craftsman. He had been working in the kitchen of a monastery. He told me the story about one of the priests who was going to be ordained. They use a special chalice for ordinations. Karl had a tremendous reputation for his jewelry and other work in gold and precious metals and they asked him to make the chalice. That began a whole series of commissions to make priests’ chalices. As a designer craftsman, he now had a broad market for his talent. He came to meet me just because he wanted to offer his services if I could use him. He wasn’t certain what that might exactly be.

At this point, I had been hired to design Zion United Church of Christ on South 76th Street which had originally been located somewhere around 13th and Greenfield. A lot of the church members had moved out to the west side. When I was interviewed, they told me they were interested in a Gothic Church. I gave them the story of Gothic history then submitted a design based on pure Gothic for our period. From my experience with St. Edmund’s, I was now aware of the cost of the scaffolding that was needed for this type of design–I had had to scaffold the whole thing underneath. So now I had in mind that I did not want to design something that needed all that scaffolding.

I approached this design differently. I decided I would make a small form on the ground, then cast a shell, set that shell aside, and make five more to create six identical shells. If you were to pick them up with a crane and set the bases on the foundation and let their tips touch, they would create a perfect Gothic arch, leaving triangular side openings between the shells. Then I designed smaller hyperbolic paraboloids which connected the main shells at the roof.

The chairman of the committee for Zion Church was Horley Priddle. He had the vision that the altar at the church would be a solid block of stone broken out right at the quarry—symbolizing God’s direction to Solomon in building the temple (I King 5:1). It got a little expensive to make and put in place and as I remember, I paid for half of it.

The solid stone altar required heavy equipment to move it. The altar was actually placed on its foundation in the church before the shells were erected.

I proceeded with the working drawings of the shells, leaving the triangular openings between them unresolved.  At this point, I received a notice from the University of Illinois that I was selected for the Francis J. Plym Fellowship with six months travel in Europe to study European architecture. One of the key requirements of the Fellowship was that you could not be over 30 years of age. I remember so vividly opening the letter while we were living in the upper duplex on Humboldt and Dolores saying,

“If you’re going to Europe, don’t think you’re leaving all of us at home. We’re coming too!”

In the yard of the duplex

Just before trip to Europe outside duplex on Humboldt.

The amount of the fellowship was $1700 which was about enough to cover the travel and living cost for one person for six months. Now I was faced with the additional cost of the family. My good friend from High school, Jim Pawlik, worked in the purchasing Department of Schlitz Brewery. Jim had told one of the sign manufacturers from Chicago about St. Edmund’s and took him out to see it. His name was Hy Hammer. Jim told him about the Fellowship and explained that in order for me to go I would need to come up with the cost to cover my wife and three children.

“Bill hasn’t worked out how he’s going to handle that.” Jim told him.

“Well, tell him to come to Chicago with his wife so I can meet them and we can discuss the Fellowship.”

Dolores and I made an appointment and went down to see Mr. Hammer in Chicago. He wanted to know our story, then suggested that we work up a budget and come back and meet with him again. So we worked up the budget, went back and the first thing he said was,

“Your budget includes the expense to fly.  It’s much cheaper to go by ship!”

So we went back and revised our figures changing the cost from airplane to ship then met with him again. He agreed to cover the difference of the cost between my budget and the fellowship which came to $3,000.

I said, “Well let’s make it a loan and I’ll pay it back.”

“No, I don’t want to do that. I can see you have a lot of creative talent and I don’t want to strap you with a debt which could interfere with that talent and your career.”

The Fellowship required that I send  monthly reports to the University. I sent my part-time secretary penciled copies then she would type them up and send off the reports. I also had her send copies to Mr. Hammer.

He was quite a guy and I never went back down to see him after the trip. I really wish I would have gone and thanked him in person for what he did for me. I did thank him in the reports but I should have gone back, personally. I should have brought him something from Europe. These things come back to me now.

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