Describe Unity Village in one word. Most people choose peaceful, centering, still, calm, or serene. I believe another word encompasses the pure, physical awesomeness of the Village: iconic.
The grounds here are an architectural marvel. Gorgeous little dwellings in the English Cotswold style, reminiscent of the old country’s meadow landscapes, dot the outer portions of the Village, while the grandiose Mediterranean-inspired buildings at the center of campus command attention. Iconic just might be an understatement.
As many familiar with the Unity movement know, the genius who designed these architectural masterpieces was Waldo Rickert Fillmore, known as Rickert, the second son of Unity founders Charles Fillmore and Myrtle Fillmore.
As Unity archivist Mark Scherer puts it, “This entire campus is Rickert’s signature.”
Rickert’s artistic ability was apparent at an early age, and his talent took him to Chicago, where he earned a four-year degree from the esteemed Chicago Art Institute (CAI). (Rickert was enrolled along with another famous Missouri visionary/artist, according to the school’s 1907-1908 annual: Thomas Hart Benton.)
After graduating from the CAI, Rickert was involved in several ventures in the Kansas City, Missouri, area, as well as in Colorado, but it was his travels in Europe around 1910 that inspired his designs for the Village. He first visited England and then Italy, where he studied in Rome. Scherer speculates that Rickert may have also spent time in Seville, Spain, although the Unity Archives has no records confirming that.
“His architectural style was born in Europe,” Scherer explains, “but when World War I broke out he had to come home.”
Rickert’s love of architecture blossomed, his interest in it apparent in excerpts from Arthur Zebley’s From the Beginning—Unity, volume two. One passage describes two of Rickert’s favorite books in his personal library as being Florentine History and Samuel Chamberlain’s Domestic Architecture in Rural France. The excerpt goes on to describe how much of the architecture around the Village (including the bowl-shaped fountain in the Rose Garden) is reminiscent of pictures in both books.
The first two Village buildings Rickert designed, the Tower and the original Silent Unity Building (which now houses the Unity Archives and Unity Worldwide Ministries), were finished in 1929. Building continued until his master plan was completed in 1989, 24 years after his transition.
It’s difficult for me to think about how a brief period in one person’s life would be the basis for everything I see around me when I come to work. Nearly everything I’ve written about in this column is a result of Rickert’s planning for the Village, including the Unity Clubhouse, the Tower, the Blue Room, Myrtle Fillmore Grove, and even the golf course.
Rickert’s longtime assistant Otto Arni was quoted in an article written by Dorthy S. McLaren in 1965 after Rickert made his transition earlier that year. “All of these buildings were Rick’s ideas,” Arni said. “He designed them, supervised their building, and planned … all that is here now.”
Next time you visit the Village, take a moment to look around. Notice the architecture and you’ll appreciate just how far-reaching one person’s vision can be.