First Immanuel Lutheran Church
by: chicago designslinger
[First Immanuel Lutheran Church (1888) /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1854 Chicago's St. Paul's German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod granted a group of parishioners the right to organize a sister parish on the outskirts of town. The Lutheran Church in America was divided into regional synods, and in 1847 St. Paul's pastor Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther gathered together 11 other regional pastors in Chicago to organize the German Evangelical Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States - of which Walther became head honcho. He named St. Paul's new sibling the Evangelical Lutheran German Emanuel Church, and a small frame building was erected for the city's growing, German-speaking, Protestant population at 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) and Hoosier Avenue (Blue Island).
[First Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1124 S. Ashland Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The colony of Deutsche sprechenden migrants settling in and around the southern edge of town at 12th and Hoosier were far removed from the mother church located on the north side at Franklin and Superior Streets. And it was quite a schlep, especially on the city's unpaved, muddy, and deeply rutted dirt streets. Not long after after the German Lutherans began worshiping at Emanuel, they were joined by ethnic Catholics who began construction in 1857 on a church of their own, Holy Family, across the street.
[First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By 1864 the parish was doing well enough in terms of members and financial resources to move a few blocks north, where they built a more substantial house of worship on Taylor Street east of Blue Island Avenue. They purchased a large 189 x 100 foot corner lot and in 1871, as the city burned to the ground, Emanuel Church became a safe haven for refugees fleeing the flames of the massive fire that raged just to the east. By 1887 the parishioners were ready to move again, to a less congested part of town, and followed 12th Street west to Ashland Boulevard - a street lined with the large mansions of some of the city's founding families. They sold their Taylor Street location to the School Board for $27,000, paid $15,000 for their Ashland Boulevard address, and built a towering rusticated stone-faced edifice for $41,000.
[First Immanuel Lutheran Church /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The building looked like any number of churches around the city, although the use of the popular Joliet limestone of the previous 20 years was coming to an end. Also coming to close was use of one "m" in Emanuel when another was added before losing the "E" altogether and replacing it with an "I." Immanuel became "First" as a way to distinguish itself from a number of other Lutheran parishes, organized by different ethnic groups like the Swedes, Danes and Finns decided Immanuel sounded like a pretty good name to them as well. Following the Second World War the community's economic, ethnic, and racial demographics began to change rapidly, and First Immanuel began to consider packing its bags, move from the old neighborhood, and follow many of their parishioners as they fled to the suburbs. But stalwart members of First Immanuel, with the support of their pastor, made a commitment to stay, and officially declared that they would open their doors to all people regardless of their race, ethnic background or economic status. It was a bold move in 1951. In 1966 when Martin Luther King came to Chicago in his quest for racial equality, Pastor Donald Becker invited King to come to First Immanuel and address the community. Big physical changes were also engulfing the church property. The University of Illinois Medical Center was expanding, and the state went on a demolition spree tearing down every structure that had once surrounded the church. Marshfield Street, directly west of Ashland where the parish's school building once stood, was closed and the entire block given over to medical buildings. First Immanuel not only survived but in 2006 Kurt Hoelter, a contractor from New York, paid for, constructed, and re-installed the church's massive rose window which had been destroyed in a storm in the early 1960s. Hoelter's great-grandfather Louis had been Emanuel's pastor at the time the church was built, and his grandfather Peter Hoelter had been Emmaunuel's pastor until 1933, ending 54 years of Hoelter leadership.