9.25.2006

Glass Chapels: And then there were three!

We've photographed literally hundreds of weddings at Arkansas' best known glass chapels, Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista and Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs. On Saturday, September 23, we had the pleasure of photographing our first wedding at the brand new Anthony Chapel at Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs, when we documented Misti and Chris' wedding. Anthony Chapel was designed by partners of E. Fay Jones, the architect who designed Cooper and Thorncrown. Now that we've photographed at all three glass chapels, I thought I'd give you our thoughts on how Anthony Chapel stacks up to its sister chapels.

It seems to me that Cooper and Thorncrown were built as worship centers first and then added weddings later as a means to financially support upkeep of the grouds, staff salaries, etc. Anthony Chapel, however, was designed with weddings in mind as a means to bring in additional revenue for the University of Arkansas' Garvan Gardens. That's right, the mighty U of A is now in the wedding business in central Arkansas!

Anthony Chapel offers numerous wedding amenities that Cooper and Thorncrown simply can't match. While those two chapels only hold around 120 each, Anthony holds nearly 200. It's also much larger than the other structures. In addition to being both longer and wider than the other chpaels, it is equipped with two side entrances that are lare enough for a wedding party to wait prior to the processional. These areas also come in handy after the wedding, giving the bride and groom a place to "hide out" while guests make their way to the reception. This avoids the bride and groom being caught in an impromptu receiving line outside the chapel.

Anthony Chapel is also advantageous for photography: It has two nooks on either side of the altar for a photographer to post himself without being seen by guests. These nooks are accessible by their own entrances, which are also hidden from guests' view. This makes it easy for us to discreetly capture the intimate moments of your ceremony. The color scheme of the chapel is also very pleasing to the eye. The designers went with muted neutrals for design accents and seat cushions, as opposed to the bright blue pews at Thorncrown and the bright red pews at Cooper. The lighting at Anthony Chapel is also far superior to that of the others. Cooper and Thorncrown offer no significant light sources inside the chapel. This means that on sunny days, the light is patchy, and that after sunset, the chapel is pitch dark. This can make capturing the wedding photographs of your dreams a little harder for us! Anthony Chapel makes it easy: There is extensive lighting throughout the chapel, with extra spotlights available at the altar. This means that the light inside will be pleasant and even, regardless of whether it's noon or nine p.m. outside.

Another huge advantage Anthony has over the other two chapels is that it offers quarters for the bride and groom to get ready for the wedding. There are two large buildings allotted for this, and they are situated down wooded stone paths at opposite ends of the chapel. Any couple that has ever been married at Cooper or Thorncrown Chapel, but didn't want to see each other before the ceremony, will tell you what a great idea it is to have seperate quarters. This means the guys no longer have to stay in the parking lot until the ceremony, especially benefical on rainy days!

The bride's quarters has a full dressing room with the theatrical lighting, huge mirrors and a full kitchen, great for storing bouqets and making last-minute snacks. The bride's room also features a foyer so large that they actually hold receptions in there for groups under 150. The groom's getting ready area is also roomy, with a bathroom, a seperate dressing room and a large central area for the guys to just "hang out." The huge picture windows and skylights in the groom's quarters are also just amazing.

Anthony Chapel runs $1200 for two hours. Additional hours are $200 each. Rehearsals are complimentary. There are many other packages available, especially if you plan to include a reception. It's nice that since you're planning your wedding online (that's why you're here), that they have their price list on their website. ( Vendors: EVERY vendor should have their price list on their website! Today's bride plans her wedding online!)

This review would be incomplete if I did not also comment on how nice and polite the staff at Anthony Chapel was. They never were rude, and they never made the wedding party feel rushed. They were very helpful and accomodating. I have never had a huge problem with the staff at Cooper, but the church director at Thorcrown definitely needs to retire, or at the very least take some classes in customer service! It just makes everyone feel uncomfortable to have someone hovering over them throughout the wedding constantly picking on them and reminding them of how much time is left.

Probably the best advantage of Anthony Chapel, though, is that there are several different options for on-site receptions. There is a large gazebo on site as well as the bride's quarters. Weather permitting, the actual garden areas could also accommodate receptions. The wedding we shot held the reception in the Welcome Center, which accommodates 200-300 guests. It features an extensive outdoor deck overlooking the beautiful Garvan Gardens and offers convenient restroom facilities for your guests, something Cooper and Thorncrown still lack. I have to say though that I wasn't impressed that they use the front entrance of the "Welcome" Center as a storage area for boxes!


One other caveat- if you hold your reception at the Welcome Center at night, be warned that the path from the center to the parking lot is not lit, and there is no railing on the sidewalk. It was so dark on the path that one guest at our last wedding tried to step aside to let another person by and fell into a stream! They are still putting the finishing touches on the chapel, though, so hopefully the boxes and lighting issues will be cleared up in the near future.

With the Crescent Hotel and Basin Park within easy driving distance of Thorncrown Chapel, it isn't too difficult to plan a wedding reception in Eureka Springs, however if you have a wedding at Cooper in Bella Vista, nearby reception locations of any quality are almost impossible to find. Guests are usually forced to drive to Rogers or Fayetteville for the reception. It was so nice to leave Anthony Chapel and head directly to the reception hall, just a short scenic walk away.

If a glass chapel is in your wedding dreams, I don't think you'd be disappointed at any of the three options Arkansas has to offer: Cooper, Thorncrown, or Anthony. All three are incredibly beautiful and settled on breathtaking grounds, but for the sake of convenience and guest comfort, Anthony Chapel at Garvan Gardens is probably your best bet. I look forward to shooting more weddings there!

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