The design of the Finney Chapel for Oberlin College was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Gilbert and President Henry Churchill King and the college.
In January 1903, fire destroyed the old chapel of the college. Frederick Norton Finney wanted to donate a new chapel as a memorial to his father, Charles Grandison Finney, a prominent nineteenth-century Oberlin evangelist. Finney Chapel was erected by Mr. Frederick Norton Finney, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as a memorial for President Finney: “That the youth of this foundation of learning may daily meet to worship God, and that a son may honor the memory of his father.”
|President King invited Frederick Norton Finney to propose an architect. Gilbert, “a very artistic fellow,” was suggested. When King met with Gilbert in New York in April 1904, Gilbert made a pencil sketch that was very close to the building as it was finally completed four years later.  The program called for a dual-purpose building, one suitable for worship as well as a performance space desired by the college's conservatory of music that would seat 2000 people.|
Gilbert's design for the exterior was intended to complement the new gymnasium, designed by Chicago architect Norman Patten with buff sandstone walls and arched openings. It was based on twelfth-century Romanesque architecture of northern Italy, “the simplest and most straightforward type of architecture absolutely without affectation.”  The focal point of the exterior design is the front entrance porch at the base of the gabled east facade with its three arched portals that evoke the design of the entrance porch of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York, designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1902. Gilbert had a fully developed design by 1906, but Finney, the donor, was critical.  He finally conceded to Gilbert, if the building were completed by commencement in June 1908, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the college.
The construction was begun in June, 1907, and the Chapel was dedicated June 21, 1908, in connection with the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the college. It was opened for college uses in September, 1908.
The exterior of the chapel, faced with smooth sandstone, is minimally ornamented. The capitals of the columns flanking the entrance doors were executed by Cleveland sculptor Stephen Gladwin. The interior, except for the wood-beamed and paneled ceiling that concealed the steel trusswork remained largely unadorned.
The exterior measurement is 165 feet in length, and the breadth of the front, including the tower is 117 feet. The body of the building has an average width of 86 feet. The total cost was about $135,000. The seating capacity is 1900.
A service is held here four days each week at twelve o’clock, attended by students and faculty. A marble bust of President Finney, by Andreoni, of Rome, Italy, presented to the College in 1900 by Mr. Frederick Norton Finney, occupies a central position in the front vestibule. The chapel bell, a recast of the bells in the old chapel, is the gift of the class of 1902; the peal of bells, installed in the spring of 1915, and the clock mechanism for ringing the bells, are the gifts of the classes of 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918. The reading desk and the pulpit chairs are the gifts of the classes of 1904 and 1908 respectively.
Finney has excellent acoustics.
Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer, pianist, and conductor, performed on this stage during the winter of 1939-1940.
In 1902 Rachmaninoff married his second cousin Natalia Satina, which caused some difficultly from the Eastern Orthodox Church's rules about not marrying cousins.
The Russian Revolution, caused Rachmaninoff and his family to move to Dresden Germany and here Rachmaninoff wrote his Second Symphony Opus 27 (1906-08). He accepted an offer to tour the United States, where he composed the Third Piano Concerto Op. 30 (1909). After its performance, he became greatly respected in America. He moved to New York in November of 1918. He did not compose much because of his demand to perform and the need to support his family, but also because he felt that his inspiration was left at home in Russia.
He had two affairs, which we know of. One was with a woman called "Re" and the other with Nina Koshetz a famous Russian singer. He had somewhat of a difficult life, as evidenced by his passionate, dark, mournful, music.
One of his last works was the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in the summer of 1934. Rachmaninoff died on March 28th, 1943, in Beverly Hills, California, just a few days before his 70th birthday. He was later buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
In his final hours, he was said to have heard music in the distance and after being told that there was no such thing, he said: RACHMANINOFF: "Then it is in my head."
A Skinner pipe organ was installed in 1914, into case work that Gilbert had designed. The organ, the united gift of Mr. Finney and Mr. Charles M. Hall, was built by the E.M. Skinner Company in the early part of 1915 and extensively rebuilt by the firm Aeolian-Skinner in the early 1950's. That organ has been dismantled (in late-June 1999) and shipped to Indianapolis for renovation before being installed in its new home in Truro Episcopal Church of Fairfax, Virginia.
I wonder if Keith Godchaux had the opportunity to try out this pipe organ on March 13, 1976, at the
At any rate, that organ was replaced by a 4,014 pipe, A new 76-rank, three-manual Fisk organ, acclaimed organ builders of Gloucester, Mass., dedicated in September 2001.
The advent of the C.B. Fisk Opus 116, designed and constructed in the late-Romantic tradition, is based on the symphonic style of the great French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The organ weighs 45,000 pounds, has 60 voices, and 3,951 pipes ranging in size from 32' long with the largest, made of poplar, weighing 600 pounds, to the size of a child's finger, that will occupy the front of the chapel.(4)
One midnight a month the student-organized midnight Organ Pump takes over the building, as performers take turns playing Finney's huge pipe organ.
The chapel remains in use for purposes of both religious worship and of performance.
Jerry performed here on
3/13/76 Jerry Garcia Band
5.)^Shockley, Linda, Oberlin Backstage Pass, Opus 116, Shot in the Fisk Workshop as it is Crafted; Organ Slated for Summer 2,000 Installation
6.)^Geoffrey Blodgett. "Oberlin College Architecture: A Short History." This online guide is an updated excerpt from his article which appeared in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine (May/June 1979). http://www.oberlin.edu/external/EOG/gbslides/AShortHistory.html