St. Martin de Tours / St. Martin de Porres / Chicago Embassy Church,
1895, Henry J. Schlacks, 5848 S. Princeton Ave.
For nearly 130 years, St. Martin Church, a striking Gothic structure with a soaring steeple, has been a visual landmark on the South Side of Chicago. Designed by renowned ecclesial architect Henry J. Schlacks for a fledgling German Catholic parish in Englewood, the church first served German immigrants and ultimately became a thriving Black parish before being closed in 1989.
In later years of use, deferred maintenance led to deterioration of the structure, whose former glory diminished despite subsequent operation as Chicago Embassy Church. While its current status is uncertain, the need is urgent to find a preservation solution to save St. Martin’s. Restoration of this magnificent edifice to its former prominence would add to the spiritual and social life of the community, and creative reuse could spark renewal of this corner of Englewood.
After years of deferred maintenance and closure, St. Martin has suffered deterioration. Sections of the roof appear to be compromised, likely causing interior exposure to elements. The roof of the adjacent mansion-like rectory also appears to have deteriorated. Some of the windows appear to have been damaged and occasional graffiti damage to the church façade has been noted. The interior condition is unknown. Without intervention, this church will continue on a steady path of deterioration due to weather, deferred maintenance, and its unheated interior.
St. Martin’s entire existence has combined the highest level of structural craftsmanship with service and attention to its community’s many needs. The awareness that beauty is a need and a benefit to the poor as much as to the wealthy has lifted the spiritual and emotional well-being of its parishioners of every background.
The present day needs of the community, like most disinvested communities, are many: education and job training, economic investment, accessible mental health, and a clean, litter-free environment, among many others. As pressing as these needs are, there is also the need for intangible goods, like a sense of security, safety, and peace of mind.
Thus, restoration of St. Martin’s Church as a beautiful, luminous space can provide a spiritual and emotional benefit even if it is not used for religious services. It could be used for smaller-scale musical performances or occasional art exhibits, possibly of the immersive experience type. This reuse could be coupled with, for example, arts and other classes in the renovated rectory-parish hall building north of the church. Perhaps this could be done in collaboration with faculty of the nearby Kennedy-King College. This space could also house a small gallery featuring goods produced by local craftspeople and artists. The parking lot on the site of the demolished St. Martin school building could be turned into green space with beekeeping and a native-plant garden, as well as community plots for growing fresh produce. In this way, the entire St. Martin campus could become something of a creative incubator space.
If restored and repurposed, the irreplaceable structure of St. Martin’s can anchor an oasis of creativity and nature, offering music performance, arts training, and peace for present-day and future generations. In commenting on the damaged statue of St. Martin, one of the clergy of the Chicago Embassy Church commented that: “The statue can tell the story of the Englewood community and where it was, and where it is. And […]where it is going. We believe that Englewood is one of the hidden treasures in our city.” A renovated St. Martin Church can be a beacon of pride and hope for the entire community, making this corner of Englewood a treasure that is no longer hidden.