Friday, February 27, 2015

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church & School Buildings, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church & School Buildings, Chicago (1905-06) Worthmann & Steinbach, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1517 an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his theses to a church door in a city located in what was then the massive Holy Roman Empire, now located in a part of Germany. In 1905 a group of German immigrants, built a Lutheran church in a Chicago neighborhood on the outskirts of the city's West Side, now known as Ukrainian Village.

  [St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church & School Buildings, 925 N. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Although the country we know today as Germany today didn't come into being until 1871, the people who immigrated from the land of Luther to Chicago in the middle of the 19th century were known as Germans. Like most immigrants they brought their native language, culture and religion with them, and as more and more native Saxons, Hessians, and W├╝rttembergians flooded into the city, they established German-speaking communities on the city's north and west sides. When a colony developed in and around Chicago Avenue and Noble Street in the mid-1860s, a group of Germanic Protestants established a parish under the auspices of St. Paul's Church, the city's first German Lutheran place of worship, founded in 1846.

  [St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church & School Buildings, Ukrainian Village Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Evangelische Lutherische St. Johannis Kirche held its first service in a brand new frame church building at the northwest corner of Superior Street and Bickerdike (today's Bishop Street) on October 13, 1867. Much like the migration from the old country to the new, as the community became more established they moved from the old neighborhood to a newly developing neighborhood further west. In 1905 parishioners purchased seven city lots on Hoyne Avenue at the southwest corner of Cornelia (Walton Street), hired architects Worthmann & Steinbach, and built a much larger, and more prominent, brick church and school building. The school opened its doors in September, while the Reverend Henry H. Succop had to wait a few months for the church to be ready for its first sermon on February 11, 1906.

  [St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church & School Buildings, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect Henry Worthmann was a congregation member, and as such may have had the inside track on designing the buildings. At the time Gothic Revival was still a style of choice when it came to ecclesiastical decor and the architects incorporated Gothic-inspired flourishes in the brickwork and limestone, and the broad corner tower was topped by a steeple that climbed to 150 feet into the air. Unfortunately it was destroyed by lighting during a summer storm that came rumbling through the city in the wee hours of the morning on August 10, 1935 that also burned down Herman Cohrs barn in Homewood, and zapped the Town Hall police station's radio tower. The old-to-new migration continued, and by the mid-1920s the original German-speaking settlers were being replaced by immigrants who spoke Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. But St. John's Lutherans held on until 1974 when they finally closed-up shop, dissolved the congregation, and sold their buildings to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The Adventist's Central Hispanic Church was itself out of operation by 2002 as the Spanish-speaking community's numbers dwindled when a wave of new, young, urban dwellers moved into the old neighborhood.
Vacant and vandalized, the St. John Church & School buildings were awarded landmark designation by the Chicago City Council on March 13, 2013 and added into the expanding boundaries of the Ukrainian Village Historic District, first established in 2002. The Adventist's still own the property, and with the help of the city's Landmarks Department, Landmark Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, perhaps a buyer can be found with the deep pockets required to preserve and adaptively reuse this piece of the city's historical ecclesiastical heritage.

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