WIN: Alderman Introduces Downzoning Ordinance to Protect St. Adalbert Church (Chi 7 2014, 2016 and 2019)

St. Adalbert Church, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
St. Adalbert Catholic Church during it final mass on July 14, 2019. Photo Credit: Ward Miller / Preservation Chicago
Rally to Save St. Adalbert Church, July 7, 2019, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Mary Lu Seidel / Preservation Chicago
Ward Miller Addresses Crowd at Rally to Save St. Adalbert Church, July 7, 2019, Henry J. Schlacks, 1636 W. 17th Street. Photo Credit: Mary Lu Seidel / Preservation Chicago

“After its parishioners spent years fighting to keep it open, St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen held its final mass on Sunday. Now, the fight for the property’s future moves into a new arena as the neighborhood’s alderman said he plans to rezone the property to potentially block future plans for it.

“After a tear-filled mass, Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) said he plans to push through a procedural move to get the upper hand over the Archdiocese of Chicago, which closed the hulking, twin-towered Catholic church amid shrinking attendance and changing demographics.

“Sigcho Lopez, elected earlier this year, argued the archdiocese hasn’t done enough to disclose what’s next for the 2-acre church property at 1650 W. 17th St.

“‘We will downzone the property to protect it from any development to make sure that the residents and the parishioners … are at the table,’ Sigcho Lopez said.

“Such a ‘downzoning’ could force the archdiocese or anyone who wants to buy it to go through heightened scrutiny for any future projects on the site. Officials with the archdiocese could not be reached for comment Sunday” (Pena, 7/14/19)

While the Archdiocese would not comment on it, there is widespread speculation in the community that a developer has made a successful bid to acquire the St. Adalbert site at 1636 W. 17th Street, which includes a church, rectory, convent and school building as well as a large surface-grade parking lot.

Since the Archdiocese of Chicago officially stopped holding worship services at St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen, now is the time to encourage Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez to seek a Landmark designation for the historic Henry Schlacks-designed church. With its next owner and development plans uncertain, it is essential that a Landmark designation is secured to protect the church’s future.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez is open to the idea and concept of a Chicago Landmark Designation for St. Adalbert, but wants to handle this process in an open and democratic way. He has requested that people send him letters of support regarding a Landmark Designation which would protect both the exterior and interior of the historic church. This is important to demonstrate strong support for this designation to both the City of Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez wants to hear from the community so please send him a letter. A sample letter is included below. Having been in office three months, he has been a strong advocate for his community and has been receptive to the importance of preserving Pilsen’s history.

The community of faith at St. Adalbert has received a proposal to acquire the campus of buildings, make repairs as needed, and reopen the church as a shrine and the other buildings as a retreat house. Preservation Chicago has been part of many conversations with the community and elected officials and we hope that Cardinal Cupich will invite a religious order to move to St. Adalbert.

The Archdiocese of Chicago closed St. Adalbert in Pilsen with the final service held on Sunday, July 14, 2019 attended by over 800 people with the church filled to overflow capacity. During that service, the Archdiocese deconsecrated the church, much to the distress of the faithful worshippers at the church who are hoping it remains a sacred place.

Parishioners were devastated and profoundly impacted by the news of the church closing. Preservation Chicago has worked diligently with the community and the Archdiocese over the years to broker an agreement to first and foremost save all the buildings from demolition and then work to keep the church building as a sacred space. Preservation Chicago has encouraged the Archdiocese to consider a Landmark designation of the building and a dozen others throughout Chicago that are architecturally and historically significant. These treasures, constructed by the faithful with pennies, nickels and dimes and given up to the Archdiocese of Chicago to steward, staff and care for more than a century in most cases, need to be saved. Preservation Chicago will continue to advocate along with the community to ensure any redevelopment is sensitive to the community’s needs and guidance.

The Renaissance Revival church was designed by architect Henry J. Schlacks. Its soaring 185-foot twin towers can be seen prominently in the Pilsen community. It is meets the criteria to become a Landmark, and the Archdiocese of Chicago and the City of Chicago should recognize that honor. Religious structures need the consent of owners to be designated Landmarks in Chicago, and that consent is often difficult to attain. This often separates these buildings from the surrounding Landmark Districts, and therefore creates different standards and changes the rules that everyone else must abide by. Perhaps even the 1987 ordinance requiring religious structure owner consent can be overturned or repealed with the help of our newly elected aldermen, City Council and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Additionally, Preservation Chicago supports a Chicago Landmark Designation and/or protections for the orange-rated historic All Saints–St. Anthony Church (Chicago 7 for 2019) designed by architect Henry Schlacks in the Bridgeport community which was also closed in June.

Sample Letter of Support for St. Adalbert Church Chicago Landmark Designation

Date

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez
25th Ward
1645 S. Blue Island Avenue
Chicago, IL 60608

RE: Chicago Landmark Designation for St. Adalbert Church

Dear Ald. Sigcho-Lopez:

I stand with the St. Adalbert Preservation Society, the Society of St. Adalbert and Preservation Chicago to urge you to Landmark the interior and exterior of the St. Adalbert Church.

The historic significance of this grand church designed by Henry Schlacks meets a number of the criteria to become a Chicago Landmark.

Modeled after one of the four major basilicas in Rome, Henry Schlacks’ magnificent work on this church is impressive, and the Polish parishioners who worshipped at St. Adalbert invested the substantial funds needed to build such an incredible house of worship. The church holds high importance to the Polish community who built the church with its donations and volunteered labor. Both the Polish and Latinx parishioners have been a part of this church over the 105 years since it was built.

Parishioners see St. Adalbert as an anchor in the community – an anchor of faith, family and community. It is a testament to the strength and perseverance that embodies Pilsen.

As a community, we must act collaboratively to protect this architectural masterpiece. We need to make St. Adalbert a Chicago Landmark.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with your office to advance a Chicago Landmark designation for St. Adalbert.

Sincerely,

Additional Reading:
Can zoning changes save Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue and Pilsen’s St. Adalbert church? Two aldermen will use “downzoning” as a preservation tool in Avondale and Pilsen, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, July 30, 2019

After Last Mass At St. Adalbert Church In Pilsen, Local Alderman Moves To Get Control Over Future Plans For The Site;Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez will push to change the church’s zoning to ensure the community has a say in what will replace it. Mauricio Pena, Block Club Chicago, 7/14/19

WATCH: Pilsen Parishioners Fight to Save Historic St. Adalbert Church, WTTW Chicago Tonight, Nick Blumberg, July 9, 2019

A Historic Landmark District may not save closing Pilsen’s churches; A 1987 amendment exempts churches like the closing St. Adalbert from being landmarked without their consent, Ryan Smith, Curbed Chicago, June 25, 2019

See Preservation Chicago’s 2014 and 2016 Chicago 7 Most Endangered listing for St. Adalbert for more background

Block Club Chicago, June 24, 2019 

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