Since the devastated fire in 2006 that destroyed all but the exterior limestone walls of the highly-significant Adler and Sullivan-designed Pilgrim Baptist Church/K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple at 3301 S. Indiana Avenue, there has been little movement on the site, until plans were announced in December 2017 to build the nation’s first major gospel museum. Known as the birthplace of gospel music due to the leadership of long-time music director, Thomas Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel. Gospel legends performed at the church including as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Albertina Walker, Sallie Martin, and James Cleveland. Headed up by Don Jackson, the successful businessman and founder of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards, architect will be internationally renowned architect Dirk Lohan of Wight & Company. The initial rendering shows a 45,000 square foot building that restores the 127-year old limestone walls with a glassy rooftop addition. If funds for the $37 million museum can be secured, ground breaking is scheduled for spring 2019 with an opening in September 2020.
After many years without success raising the funds necessary for rebuilding, there was growing pressure from the neighborhood. The trustees explored options to sell the building, but decided that demolition would be a preferable option. Preservation Chicago and neighborhood preservation partners responded rapidly and the immediate threat of demolition passed.
Recognizing the significance of the structure by Adler and Sullivan, even in its diminished post-fire condition, Preservation Chicago never gave up hope and has been in active communication with the congregation, the church trustees and representatives from the City to encourage a win-win solution. In 2016, Preservation Chicago proposed an adaptive reuse plan where the church would sell the property to the City, who would adapt the existing historic three-story limestone and brick walls into a small outdoor park and amphitheater geared for gospel music and managed by the Chicago Park District. When this initiative stalled, Preservation Chicago reached out to Mr. Lohan and others to consider creative adaptive reuse concepts for this important building.