A historic Art Moderne gem on Chicago’s South Side will be getting some much needed repairs thanks to a measure recently approved by the Commission on Landmarks. The $228,000 grant via the Adopt-a-Landmark program will fund exterior terra-cotta work on Bronzeville’s First Church of Deliverance at 4315 S. Wabash Avenue as well as restore its interior murals and doors.
An Open House Chicago favorite, the 1939 structure was designed by Walter T. Bailey— the first African-American architect registered in Illinois. Its twin towers were later added in 1946 by Kocher Buss & DeKlerk. The streamlined building typifies Art Moderne architecture thanks to its smooth surfaces and use of glass-block windows.
The early 20th century Art Moderne style is fairly rare in Chicago with its most famous example arguably being the Gold Coast’s Frank Fisher Studios building. When it comes to ecclesiastical structures, the First Church of Deliverance essentially stands alone. It was officially designated a Chicago Landmark in 1994.
Remarkable architecture aside, the structure also served an important cultural and artistic role. In 1934, First Church launched a radio broadcast that gave Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs and his 200-person choir national exposure.
Music director Kenneth Morris brought in a Hammond electric organ in 1939—a move that is credited for revolutionizing the sound of gospel music. Notable musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, and “mother of gospel music” Sallie Martin have all been associated with the congregation and its broadcasts.
Much like Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, the Adopt-a-Landmark program is funded by the developers of downtown construction projects in exchange for zoning bonuses from the City.