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A Historic Landmark District may not save closing Pilsen’s churches

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A 1987 amendment exempts churches like the closing St. Adalbert from being landmarked without their consent

St. Adalbert
Ryan Smith

The effort to add Pilsen’s churches to the neighborhood’s proposed historic district took on new urgency this week.

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that St. Adalbert Parish—which has been listed for sale by SVN Commerical Chicago since last fall—will hold its final mass on July 14. Now the fate of the 100,000 square-foot complex, which includes the Renaissance Revival church building designed by notable architect Henry J. Schlacks in 1912, is uncertain.

Last month, the Chicago Landmarks Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the city establish a Pilsen Historic District to protect 850 “significant” buildings in the gentrifying near south side neighborhood. The city council is expected to vote on the district soon. But a 1987 amendment to city’s Landmarks Ordinance exempts churches from being landmarked without their consent, with churches asserting that the laws may infringe on their ability to express their faith.

Churches do have the ability to opt-in to the district, however. Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said his group has tried to convince the Archdiocese to add several Pilsen churches to the list, but that suggestion fell on deaf ears.

“They would not consent to the designation and it’s tragic and it’s wrenching,” said Miller. “Here was an opportunity for the Archdiocese to do the right thing and be part of the community instead of seprate themselves from community and instead they made this heavy-handed decision.”

The sanctuary of St. Adalbert Parish.

The preservation advocacy group first put St. Adalbert on their list of Most Endangered buildings in 2014 due to the crumbling of the church’s iconic 185-foot twin towers, which have been covered in scaffolding for years. The $3 million in repairs was cited as a factor in the Archdiocese’s 2016 decision to close the church.

The closing of St. Adalbert was part of a bigger plan to consolidate parishes in Pilsen from six to three. Also on the chopping block: St. Ann’s at 1840 South Leavitt Street and St. Procopius at 1640 S. Allport St. In February, Block Club Chicago reported that the century-old St. Ann and an adjacent property was sold for $1.4 million and would be redeveloped into apartments or condos.

Miller said he’s working to make sure that the same doesn’t happen to St. Adalbert.

“We’re hoping that it could be a shrine to Adalbert or other saints or could be repurposed into community centers or food pantries,” said Miller. “It should stay a building that serves humanity in some way.”