WIN: Church of the Epiphany’s Conversion to an Art Center Receives City Approval

Church of the Epiphany Interior, Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

After many years of preservation advocacy and many false starts, plans are underway to adaptively reuse Romanesque Revival Church of the Epiphany as a performing arts and event space. Located at 201 S. Ashland Avenue, the church closed in 2011. Preservation efforts in the 1990s resulted in the church being included in the Jackson Boulevard Landmark District Extension. This prevented discussions of possible demolition and replacement with new construction.

However, pairing historic buildings with uses is the only way to protect them against deferred maintenance and Chicago’s harsh winters. Preservation Chicago’s primary efforts have been to identify and secure a new use and good steward/owner for the vacant church building.

Owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, the redevelopment plan is from Chicago-based developer David Chase of BCG Enterprises, LLC with design from Fitzgerald Associates Architects. The plan includes the preservation and adaptive reuse of the historic building and its sanctuary. The use will include performing arts and event space along with galleries and studios. A rooftop deck will be added to the adjacent 1960’s-era two-story structure located to the south of the church. The developer is working with Neighbors of the West Loop and residents of the Jackson Boulevard Landmark District regarding support for a potential liquor license, noise restrictions, hours of operations, managing deliveries, and protection of the historic alleyway. The required zoning change was granted on March 27, 2018 for the proposed new use.

Designed by architects Edward Burling and Francis Whitehouse, the Church of the Epiphany was built in 1885 with additions in 1895. The heavy rusticated stone building provides an excellent early example of Richardsonian Romanesque Revival architecture in Chicago. Members of the original congregation included many from the Boston area who were likely influenced by the architectural work of H. H. Richardson.

Additionally, the church’s role in Chicago history is significant. In 1893, on the final day of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Carter Harrison Sr., the highly popular, five-term Mayor of Chicago, was assassinated. After thousands of Chicagoans paid their respects to their fallen Mayor lying in state at City Hall, the highly attended funeral was held at the Church of the Epiphany just down the block from Mayor Harrison’s home at 231 Ashland Avenue The funeral was followed by a procession of carriages to Graceland Cemetery. (Chicago Tribune, 12/6/1936)

In the 1960s, the church was known informally as “The People’s Church” and was the site of many civil rights discussions and meetings. On December 6, 1969, the funeral service for Fred Hampton and Mark Clark was held at Church of the Epiphany. Two days earlier, Fred Hampton, the 21-year leader in the Black Panther Party, was fatally wounded during a highly controversial Chicago Police raid on his West Side apartment at 2337 W. Monroe Street. (Chicago Tribune, 12/4/14)

In the 1990s the Church of the Epiphany underwent a significant restoration under the Epiphany Restoration Association (ERA) with Vinci-Hamp Architects and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Engineers (WJE). During that time, Ward Miller and the ERA lead an extensive effort to landmark the church building. This resulted in the Church being included in the Jackson Boulevard Extension Landmark District.

Preservation Chicago would like to encourage the continued restoration of the exquisite church sanctuary, unique Tiffany mosaics, rare patterned terra cotta walls, extensive art glass, other significant interior spaces, and to consider the entire historic complex as a sole Designated Chicago Landmark as part of this redevelopment agreement.

Additional Reading

Chicago’s Church of the Epiphany to be converted to performing arts and event space, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 8/7/17

CHICAGO: Historic Episcopal Church awaits next chapter after closing, Ronnie Reese, Chicago Tribune, 11/30/2011

Drama in the Death House, Chicago Sunday Tribune, Dr. Francis W. McNamara, 12/6/1936

The Black Panther Raid, Chicago Tribune, 12/4/14

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