Chicago’s 2nd Presbyterian Gets Fed Help to Save Mural

If you’ve ever toddled down Michigan Avenue to Second Presbyterian Church, whether to bend a knee or just to attend a community function, you probably noticed one of its greatest hits: The Tree of Life.

Tree of Life mural. (Courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church)
Tree of Life mural. (Courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church)

In a church stuffed with glorious art, the Tree of Life mural still stands out.  The brushwork and leaf of Frederic Clay Bartlett, it’s 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide.  Not surprisingly it’s filled with allegories of the Garden of Eden, Noah, and other basic Bible bits.  

It’s the largest piece of art in the church, which needs two-thirds of a million dollars to scrape away a hundred years of urban filth.  And it’s not just the painting that needs help.  The accompanying illumination and ornamentation are in a dire situation.  Let’s put it this way: The wiring pre-dates historic electric inventions like the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, and even Betty White.

Fortunately, your tax dollars are coming to the rescue.  The National Park Services‘ Save America’s Treasures program has granted Second Presbyterian $250 million to help pay for the restoration.  It’s not the full amount needed, but as Jesus never said, “It’s a darned good start.”  

Here’s a few items from the church’s honey-do list:

  • Map the mural
  • Check the plaster’s integrity
  • Clean the paint that can be cleaned
  • Repair paint that is missing or can’t be cleaned
  • Spruce up the herald angels statues
  • Bring the lights into this century
  • Clean and repair the organ screen
  • Clean and paint the arch
  • Replace the drapes that hide the organ’s 2,600 pipes
Courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church
Courtesy of Second Presbyterian Church

Location: 1936 South Michigan Avenue, South Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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