Still standing in Oak Cliff… (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
Sometimes an image just grips you. That’s what happened when I saw this postcard featuring The Gospel Lighthouse Church. The building was so odd-looking and cool. Who designed it? Where had it been? And what was that thing on top of it? I did a bit of research on the church and found out that it was organized in Dallas in 1940 by Pentecostal preacher J.C. Hibbard and his wife Nell, who was also a preacher. The two had been preaching at the Oak Cliff Assembly of God Church until J.C.’s divorce from his first wife (and subsequent second marriage to Nell) became such a point of controversy that the two felt compelled to leave (or were asked to leave) the Assemblies of God, and they formed their own church.
And that was the Gospel Lighthouse Church, located in the 1900 block of S. Ewing (at Georgia) in Oak Cliff. While their first church was being built, they held services in a large circus tent in the parking lot. The congregation helped with the physical labor of the construction, and progress on the building continued non-stop, 24 hours a day. In January of 1941, the church was completed, and an article appeared in The Dallas Morning News soon after with the grabber of a headline, “Lighthouse Church Warns Oak Cliff of Sin’s Penalty.” Sadly, the article has no byline, which is a shame, because I’d love to know who wrote the piece, because he or she pulled out all the purple-prose stops. The introduction is fantastically over-the-top:
A towering forty-foot lighthouse 300 miles from the sea was blinking out its warning signals across the dry land of South Ewing Sunday. At the front of a neat new white stone church house at 1914 South Ewing, near Louisiana, the white stone lighthouse reared far above the other buildings. Eventually, its big circular light tower will shoot a bluish mercury-vapor beam through the night to guide shaken mariners adrift on the sea of sin. Its semi-fog horns will broadcast a soft carillon of sacred music. This is the Gospel Lighthouse, built by a preacher with a new idea of church architecture and a dream of a denomination all his own. (DMN, Feb. 10, 1949)
Wow. A “bluish mercury-vapor beam” shooting through the Oak Cliff skies! (The full article is linked below.)
By 1948, J.C. Hibbard had become so popular (largely as a result of his daily radio sermons) that ground was broken on a larger church, designed by J.C. himself. It was right next to the first church. And it was pretty elaborate.
Yeah, the lighthouse part of it looks a little cheesy, but with a name like “Gospel Lighthouse Church” you kind of have to have it.
The auditorium and its mezzanine.
The nursery, with elaborate murals.
The lounge. Like the first church, this one had a nursery with a lounge — a “crying room” for mothers to tend to crying children without having to miss a single moment of the service. The crying was contained behind sound-proof glass while the sermon was piped in through speakers. The church had a lot of other amenities, but these were the only ones I’ve found deemed worthy enough to put on postcards.
I wondered if the church still stood, so I drove over to Oak Cliff yesterday and, amazingly, both churches are still there, and they are beautiful! (The original caretaker’s house is still there, too.) I’m not sure what religious group has possession of the buildings at the moment, but they are to be commended for maintaining the structures and the grounds — the 1900 block of S. Ewing really stands out from its fairly ragged surrounding neighborhood. Below are photos I took on April 19, 2014. (Click pictures for larger images.)
Above, the first church — “a modern concrete and steel building, overlaid with white Austin stone” — which was built with help from the congregation in 1941. The beam of “bluish mercury-vapor” emanated (somehow) from the squat lighthouse above the foyer.
And, below, the later church, next door. I think the “mercury-vapor” was replaced by neon. But I could be wrong. Does either beacon light up anymore?
Aside from the “lighthouse,” the most distinctive feature of this building is those rounded walls. So beautiful!
The building is actually pretty impressive to see up close. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, check it out!
Sources & Notes
Postcards from the Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection on Flickr, here.
Period black-and-white photos are from a page detailing the history of the Gospel Lighthouse Church, here. A biography of Rev. Hibbard from the same site can be found here.
Wander around the block on Google Street View, here.
Stumbled across this ad in the 1957 Dallas directory:
And I found this ad in, of all places, the 1967 Carter High School yearbook:
I also found this rather hair-raising ad for a 1967 Christmas-season production — an ad which somehow contains no exclamation marks:
Dec. 8, 1967
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.