The Chicago Tribune posted the following story: No injuries reported when church building collapses in Wicker Park. Although the church was called the Mision Cristiana Church, as soon as I saw the address of 1905 W. Schiller (which also appeared in the preview to the story), I knew exactly which church this was – it was the church that served as the original home to Holy Resurrection Cathedral, one of Chicago’s earliest Orthodox Christian Churches.
In the late 1800s, efforts were being made to establish an Orthodox Church in Chicago. Of course, being Orthodox, there were plenty of jurisdictional issues. However, out of a shared rental space, three Orthodox Christian cathedrals would be established – Annunciation (Greek), Holy Trinity (Russian/Orthodox Church in America), and Holy Resurrection, under the auspices of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
According to Holy Resurrection’s timeline on their website, California-born Fr. Sebastian Dabovich (now St. Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco), made a number of visits to Chicago between 1893 and 1905, with the express purpose of helping organize and establish the parish there. The property at 8 Fowler Street (later changed to 1905 W Schiller) was purchased, and the first Liturgy served in its chapel on July 4, 1905. Two months later, Fr. Sebastian was raised to the rank of archimandrite here, and from Chicago he was put in charge of the “Serbian Mission”, whose territory encompassed the entirety of the United States.
The parish continued to operate using the chapel of the existing building at 1905 W. Schiller until the 1930s, at which point the parish won a suit to purchase the lot next to the house that they owned and erect a church on the parcel of land. With the Great Depression in full swing, the Chicago Tribune reported that at this time (1932) that this church and the Post Office are the only buildings being built in the city.
Holy Resurrection continued to call this church home until 1971, at which time they sold the building and broke ground on a bigger temple located further northwest in Chicago. The building was sold to a church called ‘Mision Cristiana’. When the Wicker Park district was being considered for landmark district status in 1991, this church declined to be part of that. Mision Cristiana Church sold the property in 2015 for an undisclosed amount, to developers who were hoping to create two single-family homes from the original buildings, and transform the church itself into a two-unit townhome. (This article here demonstrates the layout of the property fairly well.) However, at about 6am this past Monday morning (24 October 2016), much of what remained of the buildings came crashing down, not only on the property, but on the sidewalk, and into the street, severely damaging cars parked there.
According to the site DNAinfo.com, although several permits had been obtained and work was being done, a stop-work order had been issued in July, citing work beyond what the permits allowed. (Do note that in that same article, there is an interview with “one of a team of 15” who were working on the interior demolition of the church structure.) DNAinfo.com also reported that the city immediately ordered the demolition of the entire site and that the developers will need to start from scratch as far as plans and permits for the site. (More pictures can be found here: http://abc7chicago.com/news/part-of-wicker-park-church-collapses-several-cars-damaged/1570076/.)
It’s sad that the church is gone, even if it hasn’t been the home to Holy Resurrection for many years. However, that being said, I have very ambivalent feelings towards converting churches into townhomes, condos, and the like. It certainly is a trend, not just in Chicago, but in other expensive property markets where congregations cannot support the upkeep of the property anymore. The developers often talk about wanting to “respect” the history of the place, but I don’t know that there’s necessarily a “respectful” way of converting a sacred space to the mundane. (The developers for condos that were created from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church – not far away, at Western Ave. – were given permission to retain the Catholic Charities star in the design of the condos, for example. Artist rendering here) In that sense, and in particular because of St. Sebastian’s influence at Holy Resurrection, maybe it’s for the best that this place, if not retained for something sacred, is a place that needs to be rebuilt anew, rather than ‘converted’.
(H/T to the General Mihailovich blog for info.)