THREATENED: Pilgrim Baptist Gospel Museum Gaining Momentum But Challenges Remain

In December 2017 plans were announced to build the nation’s first major gospel museum within the exterior limestone walls of the historically significant Adler and Sullivan-designed, Designated Chicago Landmark Pilgrim Baptist Church/K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple at 3301 S. Indiana Avenue. This is a wonderful plan to reuse the building devastated by a 2006 fire, but significant funds must be raised before it can move forward.

Led 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. 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 that performed at the church include Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Albertina Walker, Sallie Martin and James Cleveland.

The architect of the proposed National Museum of Gospel Music is the internationally renowned 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.

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