Monday, March 2, 2015

Wicker Park Lutheran Church
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Wicker Park Lutheran Church (1907) Christian A. Eckstorm, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1839 two brothers left Ohio and came to Chicago. Joel Wicker, owner of a small grocery store in Roscoe, Ohio, decided to seek his fortune in the larger hamlet of Chicago with his younger brother Charles in tow. Not long after their arrival Charles bought Joel out, partnered with Asha Rossiter, and opened Wicker & Rossiter Wholesale Grocers on Lake Street, the city's main commercial thoroughfare. In 1843 the ambitious Charles bought-out Rossiter and named the enterprise C.G. Wicker & Company. In 1847 the enterprising Charles married Sarah Baldwin, and purchased and built a home on a vacant corner lot at Wabash Avenue and Washington Street. His business expanded, as did his real estate purchases, and in 1867 he bought a large tract of land along the Milwaukee Plank Road far out on the northwestern edge of the city.

  [Wicker Park Lutheran Church, 1500 N. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

He didn't do much with the his investment at first, but as the city's populace slowly crept northward, Wicker, anticipating their arrival, began laying-out streets. In the early part of 1871 a street was plotted and graded that ran from North Avenue south to about where today's Evergreen Avenue runs from east to west, which Wicker dubbed Hoyne Avenue. In the aftermath of the fire in October of that year, Wicker's outlying tract seemed like a safe place to settle in, far from built-up parts of the city that provided so much fuel for the fire. The area proved popular with segments of the city's immigrant German and Scandinavian communities, whose purchase of Wicker's empty lots helped increase the size of wholesale grocer's bank account.

  [Wicker Park Lutheran Church, Wicker Park National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1879 a small group of Lutheran congregants who had moved into the emerging residential neighborhood met and decided to establish a parish. Unlike many of the other Lutheran churches in the city, these Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Germans weren't interested in establishing a church separated by language, but instead they wanted one joined together in a community of English. So on August 25, 1879 the Wicker Park Lutheran Church was incorporated without a Central European or Scandinavian designated name in its title. Among the founders was German born immigrant Albin Greiner, a Hoyne Avenue resident who lived a half-a-block from the construction site of the new Wicker Park Congregational Church on the corner of Hoyne and LeMoyne Avenues. Unfortunately the Congregationalists had bitten-off more than they could chew and were in financial trouble. On September 1st, the week-old Lutheran congregation purchased the site, raised money to finish the prominent frame structure, and dedicated their new church building on January 18, 1880.

  [Wicker Park Lutheran Church, Wicker Park Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The congregation thrived - as did Wicker's investment. By the early 1900s there was hardly an empty lot left in the formerly vacant Wicker tract, and the Hoyne Avenue followers of German reformer Martin Luther decided the time had come to demolish their old frame building a build a much more substantial stone edifice. Architect Christian Eckstorm was given the job to design the replacement, who found inspiration in a 12th century church in Caen, France. Demolition began in 1906, and the new $75,000 stone building - whose rough rock surface was apparently partially supplied by material from a demolished brothel - was completed and dedicated in October, 1907. Ninety-five years later the handsome stone church was in bad shape. With a handful of regular worshipers and a building that was ready to be condemned by the city, the crumbling building was given a new lease on life when Ruth VanDemark became its pastor. A longtime appellate court attorney, VanDemark had become a Lutheran minister and had been charged with overseeing the struggling parish. By the time of her death in June, 2012 Wicker Park Lutheran Church was not only thriving once again, but had completed needed repairs, and had raised enough funds to begin a major, on-going, restoration campaign.

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