The Second Church of Christ, Scientist at 2700 N. Pine Grove Avenue has been an architectural masterpiece in the Lincoln Park community for nearly 120 years. It was dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1901 with four services and over 10,000 attendees. Today the congregation has dwindled to a handful and the decision was made to sell the property.
The proposed development at the August 5, 2020 virtual community meeting envisions the complete demolition of the interior of the building and a new residential mid-rise building constructed within the historic limestone walls. Despite being designed by the celebrated architect Solomon S. Beman, this majestic Beaux-Arts building has no landmark protections and current zoning allows a taller building to be built.
As disclosed at the November 14, 2017 community meeting, the congregation hired a broker to quietly market the site to potential buyers including developers, schools and others. From neighborhood preservation partners, Preservation Chicago learned early about this potential sale and began to advocate to all stakeholders to protect this landmark-quality building and find an alternate use that would allow the magnificent 700-seat theater to be used for community cultural and artistic purposes. We identified a major Chicago foundation with the interest and capacity to fully restore and convert the magnificent building into Lincoln Park Community Cultural Arts Center. The purchase offer presented in December 2017 included Sunday church access for the congregation to continue to conduct their religious services.
While there were some statements about the congregation’s preference to see the building saved, the congregation leadership’s true intentions were made clear by their swift rejection of the foundation’s purchase offer. It was correctly assumed that they were working with a high-rise developer who could offer a higher purchase price.
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.
As reported by Peter Von Buol in the Skyline, 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)