In December 2017 plans were announced to build the nation’s first major gospel museum within 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. This Designated Chicago Landmark was devastated by a fire in 2006.
Lead by Don Jackson, the successful businessman and founder of the Stellar Gospel Music Awards, organizers of the National Museum of Gospel Music hosted a gospel music benefit concert in Chicago on September 27, 2018. “The National Museum of Gospel Music Concert will celebrate the power and impact of gospel music while introducing a new cultural attraction to the community and encouraging future support. Intended to become an annual event, this free performance is open to the public and features Stellar Gospel Music Award winners, leading Chicago area artists and others. Artists scheduled to appear include: Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Travis Greene, Tamela Mann, Anthony Brown, Koryn Hawthorne, Pastor Charles Jenkins, Tasha Cobbs-Leonard, Jekalyn Carr, Ricky Dillard, JJ Hairston, Pastor Smokie Norful, Shirley Caesar, Jonathan McReynolds, Sir the Baptist, and others.” (www.nationalmuseumofgospelmusic.org)
Pilgrim Baptist was known as the birthplace of gospel music due to the leadership of long-time music director, Thomas Dorsey, known as the Father of Gospel. Mahalia Jackson, the “Queen of Gospel” made her professional debut at Pilgrim Baptist Church in 1928. Gospel legends who performed at the church included Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Albertina Walker, Sallie Martin, and James Cleveland.
The National Museum of Gospel Music architect is the internationally renowned architect Dirk Lohan of Wight & Company. The projected cost for the museum is approximately $40 million. The project rendering shows a 45,000 square foot building that restores the 127-year old limestone walls with a glassy rooftop addition. Preservation Chicago strongly supports the project, but would prefer to see a roofline more similar to the original Adler and Sullivan designed. The Adler and Sullivan design was renowned for its outstanding acoustics, and we believe that a similar roof design and volume will make it easier to achieve optimal acoustics in the renovated building.
After many years without success raising the funds necessary for rebuilding, there was growing pressure from the neighborhood for action. 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 remains in active communication with the stakeholders 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 Dirk Lohan and others to consider creative adaptive reuse concepts for this important building.