Bahai Center, 1908-26

130 Evergreen Place

(Scroll down to bottom for pictures)

On June 29, 1912 Abdu'l Baha, founder of the Bah'ai Faith, spent the night in the Teaneck home of Roy Wilhem on wooded property he had purchased from the Phelps estate. During the next day a convocation known as the Unity Feast was held in which the master gave a celebrated speech, later remembered in a time capsule buried at the site. Here, in a wooded grove, members of the nascent church resolved to erect one of the most unusual religious buildings in America, a two story log and stone structure (the Evergreen Cabin) which blends perfectly with its wooded surroundings.

Three individuals are associated with the building of the Cabin: coffee merchant Roy Wilhelm, his friend and log building enthusiast Curtis Kelsey, and the then amateur architect and Englewood stationer Louis Bourgeois. The tradition of religious meetings in rustic camps dates back to the 19th century, but it was unusual for a non-traditional faith to embrace this practice. Also unusual was the choice of an overtly vernacular log building type, again associated during this period with resort life and naturism. Only a few years prior to this campaign, Gustav Stickley had chosen the log cabin as his model for Craftsman Farms in Parsippany; his magazine, The Craftsman joined Bungalow Magazine, The House Beautiful and other periodicals in promoting the rustic, simple life as an American dream. Architect Bougeois captured the essence of this style in the design, while Wilhelm collected stones for the fireplaces from his world travels, and Kelsey lent his talents as a builder on weekends. The white cedar logs for the Evergreen Cabin were mainly brought from Canada, while Norway spruce logs were cut and stripped from local stands. Nearby stood the log Torii or gate symbolic of the b'ab or prophet of the faith- its has since been demolished. The entire site seems to have been conceived in the spirit of a verdant, informal recreational camp or grove, with rock fountains and pools, winding paths and tall sheltering trees.

The sheer inventiveness and ebullience of the architecture imparts a sense of joy. Inside, the meeting spaces are filled with unusual details, including conch shell lighting fixtures, stone fireplaces and twisting log joinery. In addition to the chapel and guest rooms, there is a complete workshop in which traditional manual trades were taught and learned, such as blacksmithing, woodworking and leather crafts. Parallels with American Arts & Crafts colonies, such as the Roycrofters, Rose Valley and United Crafts, are inescapable. Bourgeois plied his skills as a designer here in Teaneck, then moved to Chicago, where he became a noted architect associated with the later Prairie School. His fanciful national Bah'ai Temple in Wilmette, Illinois is a marvel of poured in place concrete construction. Also on the Evergreen Place site is a stucco house designed by the architect for Wilhelm in about 1908 and a shingled carriage house. The original cabin, measuring 13' x 25' was augmented with a wing finished in 1931, and fire code renovations were made in 1990.

Evergreen Cabin

Shingled Carriage House

Roy Wilhelm House