Elmer Grey’s Lincoln Shrine

The Lincoln Shrine

Elmer Grey was asked to design the Lincoln Shrine by a citizen’s committee in charge of the memorial. From the start the consensus was to make the shrine a separate structure and not attach it to the A.K. Smiley Library which is the local Redlands, California library. The committee wasn’t sure if they wanted the shrine situated someplace on the library park grounds (Smiley Park) but Mayor Leo Lelan assured those connected with the project that the city would find a place in the library’s park if that’s what the committee wanted.

What the committee had in mind for the building, itself, was a one-story structure with two rooms: one for a marble Abraham Lincoln bust by sculptor George Gray Barnard and one to house Lincoln memorabilia. The structure was built as a shrine to Lincoln and a memorial to Ewart Watchorn, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Watchorn, who died at an early age from complications due to an injury he incurred during the first world war.

Grey created plans for a one-story, octagon structure of reinforced concrete that would be faced in Indiana limestone. Large murals by Dean Cornwell would encircle the interior walls near the top. Only Lincoln books would be housed in the structure and the bookcases would be constructed of Circassian walnut.

Work began on the $32,000 structure on June 16, 1931, and the contractor was A. E. Taylor & Son. The first order of business performed by the contractor was knocking down an old band shelter that occupied the space in Smiley Park where the shrine was to rise.

Eight months later the building was complete. The night before the dedication the Watchorns held a dinner for the Shrine’s executive committee, along with their wives, at the Wissahickon Inn. Over fifty people attended the event and after the Watchorns thanked everyone involved in the building’s construction the Reverend Lewis Jacobsen said, “Redlands wealth is (in) the type of citizens who live here and who love the place enough to build a great university, a wonderful library, a Prosellis, a Lincoln shrine and other great buildings.”

On February 12, 1932, the dedication ceremonies took place. A row of civil war veterans sat on the stage and behind them a group of African-American singers. Most of the singers were descendants of Israel Beale — a runaway slave who made his way to Redlands before the emancipation proclamation. Other participants included the University of Redlands choir, the Redlands High School band, and vocalist Ellen Beach Yaw. UCLA provost Dr. E. E. Moore gave the keynote address. Robert Watchorn presented the shrine to Mayor Lelan who accepted it on behalf of the city and presented “a basket of gorgeous spring blossoms” to Mrs. Watchorn.

Originally, it looked like this. It’s a single octagon building with a wall of Lincoln inscriptions behind it. Photo by Dan Lewis (on an old postcard).

After a million dollars was raised the wings (seen in the first photo) were added in 1998. I asked the docent if anyone objected to altering the shrine and he said, “no.”

Here’s the Benard bust. It’s lit very dramatically.

Dean Cornwell’s depiction of Strength.

This one symbolizes Justice.

Inside the shrine there was a bust of Ulysses S. Grant too. It was commissioned by the shrine in 1932. C. S. Paolo (1881-1955) was the sculptor.

There was also a Norman Rockwell painting called “The Long Shadow of Lincoln” hanging on the wall.  I felt fortunate that I was able to see it and get up close to it.

This is a photograph of Ewart. He’s the REAL reason the shrine was built.

One of the Lincoln inscriptions.

The Smiley Library, built in 1898, is across from the Lincoln Shrine.

In the children’s department were these stained glass windows. This one and the following two depict Alice in Wonderland.

It’s The Wizard of Oz. They’re amazing.

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Grey to design shrine. (1931, February 21). Los Angeles Times, p. A3.

Lincoln memorial shrine, The.  (n. d.). Redlands: Lincoln Memorial Shrine.

Lincoln shrine work begins. (1931, June 17). Los Angeles Times, p. 8.

McGroarty, J. S. (1932, February 13). Lincoln shrine dedicated. Los Angeles Times, p. A1.

Plans soon to be ready for shrine. (1931, May 17). Los Angeles Times, p. D3.

Redlands ready for dedication. (1932, February 12). Los Angeles Times, p. A16.

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Note: I have a book coming out in the latter half of 2018 from The History Press titled: The Architects Who Built Southern California. It will be 12 chapters with each chapter devoted to a different architect (or architectural firm) including: Harrison Albright, John Austin, Claud Beelman, Elmer Grey, Hudson & Munsell, A. C. Martin, Meyer & Holler, Julia Morgan, Morgan Walls & Clements, Parkinson & Parkinson, Alfred F. Rosenheim and Paul R. Williams.