First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago (1871) Gurdon P. Randall, architect /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Since it's dedication ceremony on November 11, 1871, just one month after the Chicago Fire burned away just to the east, the tall spires of the Union Park Congregational Church have towered over Union Park's triangular patch of urban green space.
[First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago, 1613 W. Washington Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When the Rees & Rucker Map of Chicago was drawn-up in 1849 the intersecting streets that eventually made up the boundaries of the park indicated that streets with housing lots were going to be laid out in that triangle. By 1855, this "suburban" location just 2 miles west of the downtown business district, was being developed into an upscale residential neighborhood with the park at its center. In 1862 a group of Congregationalists decided to form their own congregation in their burgeoning community and built a frame house of worship at Washington Boulevard fronting Ashland Avenue. It burned down in 1869. The members immediately got to work on building a new church and hired architect Gurdon P. Randall to design a substantial, fire-resistant stone edifice for the site. He didn't disappoint. Built of Joliet limestone, a very popular building material in Chicago at the time, the new structure not only missed being engulfed by the flickering flames of the Great Fire a mile away, but stood the tests of time by serving the original congregation, a merger with another congregation, a transition from a Spanish speaking congregation to a majority African-American Baptist congregation.
[First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
On Thursday, February 3, 2011 a member of the First Baptist Congregational Church arrived at the building to find a huge hole in the roof and large chunks of Joliet limestone laying in a ruined balcony section and staircase. From February 1-3, 20.2 inches of snow fell in the city blown around by sustained wind speeds of over 50 miles per hour, and Chicago had its Blizzard of 2011. The wind had blown over the south tower and tons of stone came crashing through the roof, not only creating a large opening but causing damage to a portion of the church's historic Kimball pipe organ. Since the building is a registered historic landmark, any repairs will have to conform to landmark standards. So will the tower that survived fire, rain, wind, snow, and a series of owners over its 140 years rise again? That will depend on how much money the church can raise to finance the repairs required in these hard economic times.