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St. James, built just four years after the great Chicago Fire of 1871 by architect Patrick C. Keeley, the 90 days has already expired. Although the church still has an active congregation, structural problems have kept them from worshipping in the sanctuary for over two years, and the Chicago Archdiocese has decided they can tear down St. James and construct a more modest replacement for about a third of the $12 million cost of restoring the existing building.
architectural competition sponsored by the Archidiocese to deflect mounting public criticism of its destruction of historic churches. None of the striking proposals from the likes of Studio/Gang, Brininstool+Lynch, Booth Hansen and A Epstein had any shot of being built. In 2010, Institutional Project Management LLC bought the church with the idea of transforming St. Boniface into Saint Boniface Senior Living, but in December the City of Chicago denied Institutional another extension for securing funding, and went to court to demand the building's demolition.
The Church Building as Vertical Urban Marker
You can argue about the backward-looking quality of the architecture, but old Chicago churches are among the most important visual markers in the urban fabric, even when the buildings of commercial streets, clotting into density and height at major intersections, provide a more broad-based contrast.
|Tivoli Theatre: 1921-1963|
The white flight that hit the city in the 50's and 60's included many of the parishioners of some of the city's grandest churches. Catholic churches and synagogues became new homes to black congregations, but in the parts of the city panic-peddled from middle-class to poor, the cost of maintaining old structures often grew prohibitive, especially for stand-alone Protestant churches operating independently. Even being a part of a large, city-wide entity cut a church little slack. The Chicago Catholic Archdiocese may be the spiritual anchor of its flock, but as manager of one of the city's larger portfolios of real estate, it is ruthlessly unsentimental. Grand churches built out of the sweat and sacrifice of Chicago's great immigrant parishes, the love of God personified in beauty and majesty, become nothing more than a real estate problem the day after the congregation is moved out.
|St. Charles Borromeo|
|St. John of God|
|Assumption Catholic Church|
Not everything can be saved. No one suggests that it should. Still, as the generations pass, ethnic orientations change and functionalities evolve, the historic texture of the buildings are what carry forward the character of a neighborhood into time. More than any lightly-visited grave, it is the buildings that let us keep the cherished past in our everyday lives.
|St. Mary's of the Angels|
It's a strategy not limited to the private sector. The Daley administration followed it to cynical perfection in promising to save old Michael Reese Hospital, and then leaving it so unprotected that it could proclaim, just a couple years later, that the building was now so deteriorated that it had no choice but to go back on its promise and smash the structure into dust.
Yet, as we continue to see in Chicago, neighborhoods do come back. When they do on a tabula rasa crazy-quilt of negligently vacant lots, it is an unnecessarily diminished revival, disconnected from the sense of place that is the foundation of any great city's character. We need to develop an institutional infrastructure to land bank endangered and orphaned city neighborhood landmarks, to be able to pay forward Chicago's historic cultural legacy into the more prosperous future.