“A North Lawndale church will take a step toward landmark status today — a potentially good sign in a larger fight to preserve Chicago’s classic church architecture. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will vote whether to grant preliminary landmark designation to Pentecostal Church of Holiness, a 90-year-old Romanesque Revival-styled edifice at 4208 W. 15th St.
“Given the church’s beauty and history, it should be a shoo-in. We applaud the move and hope a permanent designation ultimately is granted. We also like that the church’s senior pastor, Chaun L. Johnson, took the initiative to get the designation rolling. The city usually doesn’t landmark religious structures without a congregation’s consent. Here, Johnson is consenting.
“‘There is beauty on the West Side and its landmarks,’ Johnson said as he told us why he seeks a landmark designation for the church. ‘We want people to see [it’s] not a wasteland but a promised land. Our community needs to see something that’s beautiful.’
“‘Critical time’ for houses of worship: Many religious congregations in Chicago are struggling with the stratospheric costs of maintaining, repairing and restoring elaborate buildings that are, often, at least a century old. This has put so many of these beautiful places at risk.
“Right now, just 4 miles east of Pentecostal Church of Holiness, a demolition crew is razing the long-vacant and tattered 115-year-old former St. Stephenson Missionary Baptist Church, at 1319 S. Ashland Ave.
“And on the Far South Side, the former St. James Temple, 11336 S. State St., was demolished in 2019 under an emergency order after residents reported loose bricks from the vacant building raining onto the street. The church was built in 1890.
“We live in critical times for historic houses of worship. Many congregations shy away from landmark status for fear the designation would mean increased building repair costs. But other congregations, such as Pentecostal Church of Holiness, have embraced the designation, seeing it as a way to draw attention to their rich history or striking architecture.
“Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, an imposing 111-year-old Greek Revival beauty at 4600 S. King Dr., where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once spoke, was granted permanent landmark status in 2020. So was Blackwell-Israel Samuel A.M.E. Zion Church at 3956 S. Langley Ave., a Romanesque-Revival pile, built in 1886, that became prominent during Bronzeville’s 20th century heyday as a Black city-within-a-city.
“Johnson said the church needs “some necessary repairs,” and landmark status could help draw attention — and money — to assist with the building’s upkeep. But preserving the building, he said, also serves the church’s mission.
“‘If we don’t take stock of some of the historic buildings in the community, it’ll become a wasteland,’ he said. ‘Where are people going to get food, [or seek] housing,’ he said. ‘This church needs to be here after we’re gone — to be a beacon in the community.’ (Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 2/3/21)