Future Unknown for St. Martin’s on the Dan Ryan

BREAKING NEWS: The Chicago Embassy Church, originally known as “St. Martin’s” overlooking the Dan Ryan Expressway has been foreclosed and possibly sold. The future of this important historic church building remains uncertain.

In 1894, architect Henry Schlacks was commissioned to design a church building at 5848 to 5850 S. Princeton in Englewood, for German immigrants and a German-American settlement established in 1886. Originally constructed as “St. Martin’s De Tours,” the Gothic Revival structure was said to be modeled after a church in Mainz, Germany. The name was later modified to “St. Martin De Porres,” honoring the Roman Catholic African-American congregation which settled in Englewood.

The Archdiocese of Chicago closed St. Martin’s in 1989, and renamed another church at 5112 W. Washington Boulevard, originally constructed as St. Thomas Aquinas, which had been closed for several years, and located in the Austin community, in honor of St. Martin De Porres.

Several preservation efforts were undertaken in the 1990’s, by the architecture and preservation community (most notably, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, now known as Landmarks Illinois), for the Henry Schlacks designed, St. Martin’s on Princeton. Noting the significance of this church and architect, and its prominence, situated atop and overlooking the Dan Ryan Expressway at 58th Street, with its elegant limestone façade, picturesque turrets and finials, decorative carved stone facades, and its massive tower and steeple and high gables, it was considered to be one of Chicago’s great religious buildings. Another feature of the building added in the 1930s, was a gilded statue of St. Martin De Tours atop a horse, set on the high gable on the main façade, which was removed in recent years and has since been lost.

In 1998, the “Chicago Embassy Church,” became the new owner of the building and invested in a new roof, electrical, plumbing and heating system. Several members of the congregation also had affiliations with the former St. Martin’s Parish and School.

Preservation Chicago is very concerned about the future of this amazing structure by Henry Schlacks, who once worked with the Adler & Sullivan firm and later became one of Cardinal Mundelein’s favored architects. In recent years, we have been involved with the preservation of several churches designed by Schlacks, including The Shrine of Christ the King/St. Gelasius/St. Clara in Woodlawn, St. Boniface in West Town, and St. Adalbert in Pilsen.

Additional Reading

Proud church symbol awaits fate, Chicago Tribune, James Janega, 3/27/07

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