PARTIAL WIN: After Rejecting Community Performance Arts Center Proposal Which Would Have Restored Interior and Dome, Second Church of Christ, Scientist Development Will At Least Incorporate Historic Façade (Chicago 7 2019)
“The project is a blend of historic preservation and new construction. It would save the Second Church of Christ, Scientist, at 2700 N. Pine Grove Ave. — by grafting on a six-story residential addition. The church, built in 1901 in the style of a Greek temple, is a typically standout design of architect Solon S. Beman, famous for his work on George Pullman’s factory town. The church has showed up on landmark groups’ ‘most endangered’ lists.
“Changes at the property have been kicked around for years. Many in the neighborhood didn’t want another tall building to replace the church. City documents about the project say the congregation has dwindled and has a harder time supporting the building.
“The church has struck a deal with Ogden Partners to build an addition containing 22 homes and 31 parking spaces, according to material prepared for the plan commission. The church would remain in about 5,000 square feet. Representatives of the church and the developer could not be reached for comment.
“‘This saves the exterior and the whole front part of the building so that the congregation can still worship. It’s a compromise and it’s a good one,’ said local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd). She said the homes will be for sale, not rentals.
“Current zoning would allow a developer to plop 77 units on the site, so the lower density represents a concession to the neighborhood. Booth Hansen Associates, the architecture firm on the job, made several changes in response to critiques from planning officials, Smith said. The addition is designed ‘not to compete with the existing façade, but to subtly complement it,’ the development team said in its report to the city.”
Preservation Chicago has long been advocating to save the Second Church of Christ Scientist and it was a 2019 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Second Church of Christ was designed by Solon S. Beman in 1901. By any measure, it should be protected by a Chicago Landmark designation.
In 2020, Preservation Chicago was able to secure the interest of a major philanthropic foundation to purchase and restore the magnificent church building and convert it into a cultural arts center.
Additionally, the congregation would have continued to have access for religious services. The congregation flatly rejected the offer preferring to monetize the value of the land.
The decision of the development team to save the exterior walls is an improvement over the initial plans, but the building, including its magnificent dome, should be preserved in its entirety. This building presented a unique opportunity that has been squandered.
Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, spoke at the public meeting to encourage preservation and landmarking of the historic building and for a cultural use for the historic gem in November 2017
As reported by Peter von Buol in the Skyline in 2017, Ward Miller said, “We do not need another residential high-rise at this site. It will adversely affect the quality of life, sunlight, air and throw shadows on adjacent buildings. What we do need collectively, is a great and amazing resource and cultural center, for an already dense neighborhood. This is a once-in-a-life-time chance. Let’s not blow it, with another embarrassing loss and demolition of one of Chicago’s great architectural treasures.”
“‘The church mentioned they will consider a donation of the building to a good steward, so let that steward be all of us collectively and let’s all advocate for a collective reuse that benefits all Chicagoans, looking to the near future,’ said Miller, who added that Preservation Chicago will work with the congregation and the community to help make the community-center vision a reality.
“Built in 1901, the classical façade of the building recalls one of Beman’s most celebrated design, the ‘Merchant and Tailors’ Building” of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. “The World’s Fair building had received numerous awards for its designs. Beman worked with members of the Christian Science Movement and its leaders, including Mary Eddy Baker, the faith’s founder and leader, to design “a most perfect church prototype’ for subsequent Christian Science buildings. Beman included few, if any, traditional religious symbols and symbolism, in designing a beautiful light-filled sanctuary and with an auditorium and assembly-space as a sanctuary,” added Miller.
“‘The sanctuary of the church, with its art glass and gilded dome, its magnificent column-free space, with wide arches and honey-colored art windows; its rare Austin organ, could be an unparalleled space for concerts, cultural events, music, lectures, presentations affiliated with the local museums and institutions, including The Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Park Zoo and The Peggy Notebaert Nature Center. This would all be located a mere half-block from Lincoln Park, and would be an amazing resource for the Lincoln Park community, and for all of Chicago,’ suggested Miller.
“‘The Chicago Cultural Center was constructed as the Chicago Public Central Library in 1897. It was rethought as the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977 and has been one of the best reuse projects in the city’s history. It’s still a remarkable center and proof of a visionary series of decisions that were made in the 1970s, by elected officials, city leaders, and philanthropic organizations. Let’s continue to have that visionary outlook and reuse the church building for everything both cultural and imaginative. Let’s ask the church, city, elected officials to work together with our Chicago philanthropy community to make this vision a reality,’ Miller said.” (Von Buol, Skyline, 11/22/17)
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