Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago (1912) Alfred S. Alschuler, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
While researching topics for this week, it was surprising to find out how many moves Chicago's Jewish congregations made over the years and how often their houses of worship have withstood the tests of time and a variety of uses. Chicago Sinai is one of those movers arounders, founded by German immigrants in 1861 as one of the first Reform congregations in America, and the first one in Chicago. The Reform movement began in Germany during the mid-19th century when German Jews decided to embrace the ever changing and evolving world around them, and incorporate contemporary life and its vicissitudes into ancient Jewish religious traditions. In 1885 Sinai rabbi Rev. Dr. Emil Hirsch, was one of the major participants in the Pittsburgh Platform which set out 8 guiding principles for the American Reform movement.
[Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Chicago Sinai Congregation Temple, 4622 S. Martin Luther King Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1910 architect Alfred Alschuler drew up plans for a Chicago Sinai building complex that would include an auditorium for worship and a large community center which would house offices, classrooms, meeting spaces, a gym and a pool. The congregation had moved several times since 1861 before building a substantial synagogue structure on the city's near south side at Indiana and 21st Street. But as members moved further south, a large corner lot was purchased at 46th and Grand Boulevard to serve as a new home base. Since the congregation was part of the Reform tradition, Alschuler followed a design scheme that was popular at the time with other congregations in not proclaiming that the building was a house a worship, by choosing a historical classic architectural style. The restrained sophistication of Greco/Roman refinement would convey to the passerby that this was a substantial edifice, it could be a bank or a library, but not wear its religious affiliation on its sleeve.
[Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the early 1940s the neighborhood around Sinai was changing. The congregation moved once again and sold their building to the Catholic Church which opened a high school to serve the now predominantly African-American community. Corpus Christi High School lasted until 1961 when the Franciscan fathers who ran the school moved into a modern building constructed a few blocks away and Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church moved in. Mt. Pisgah played a large role in establishing an office of Dr. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Chicago, and in 1969 began one of the city's first weekly food give-away programs for the poverty stricken neighborhood.