WIN: Epworth Church Receives Final Landmark Designation Approval

Epworth United Methodist Church, 1891, designed by architect Frederick Townsend, with additions by Theilbar & Fugard, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave. Photo credit: Matt Gilbert / Chicago YIMBY

If not for the preservation advocacy effort, Epworth Church would have been demolished.

Preservation Chicago has been working to find good preservation outcome for Epworth United Methodist Church for over two years with congregants, neighbors, the Edgewater Historical Society, and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th). Concern grew as the congregation shrank and it became increasing clear that the top priority of ownership was to maximize sale price. When Epworth was first listed for sale, Preservation Chicago found a Chicago-based foundation interested in purchasing the complex, conducting a full renovation, and maintaining a religious and homeless shelter use. The purchase offer was dismissed and the seller’s priorities became more transparent.

The announcement of the closing of Epworth and a “demolition sale” sounded the alarm bells. Despite assurances from the developer that demolition was not being considered, the receipt of the demolition permit application by the City of Chicago confirmed the true intentions of the developer.

Due to extensive neighborhood advocacy, coordination and preparation, a rapid response took the developer by surprise and forced a withdrawal of the demolition permit application. Additionally, when the true intentions of the developer ran counter to previous verbal assurances, the formal Landmark designation process was accelerated.

“The 132-year-old Epworth Church, once slated to be demolished, is one step away from becoming a city landmark and being converted into affordable housing. The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted Thursday to approve a final landmark recommendation for the stone church at 5253 N. Kenmore Ave. The landmark proposal now goes for a vote before the City Council’s Committee on Zoning and then the full City Council.

“Epworth Church’s future was uncertain after the congregation held its final services in spring 2022. After a demolition scare, the landmarking process was started last year to preserve the church.

“Epworth’s owner said they plan to convert the church and a community building into 40-45 affordable apartments. The apartments would include a mix of studios and one-bedrooms, said Mike Jones, executive director of Church Properties Reimagined.

“Church Properties Reimagined leaders said they agreed to the landmark status for the property.

“The city’s review of Epworth Church showed the structure met four of seven criteria of a historic structure, enough to be classified as a landmark. That includes its heritage in the Edgewater neighborhood and its architectural significance, officials said.

“The church building was completed in 1891, with noted architect Frederick B. Townsend donating his services, according to the Edgewater Historical Society. In the 1930s, the building was expanded and a community house added to accommodate a growing congregation.

“The demolition request drew condemnation from neighbors. It also started the landmarking process.

“Because the church was rated “orange” in the city’s historical survey, any requests to demolish the structure automatically trigger a 90-day period to review the building’s historical significance.

“Church Properties Reimagined originally did not agree to the landmarking process, which required a public hearing, city officials said. That hearing was held March 30, when the owners said they would not object to the landmarking if it meant not having to preserve the windows and doors.” (Ward, Block Club Chicago, 4/14/23)

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