THREATENED: Wayman AME Church Sold for New Development

Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church, 509 W. Elm Street, Photo Credit Google Street View
Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church and 2.72 Acre Site, Photo Credit: Google Maps

After receiving multiple offers on the same day it was listed for sale, the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church and its 2.72-acre property has been sold. The listing price was $3.25 million, however, Angela Pettis, the Baird & Warner listing agent, told Dennis Rodkin of Crain’s Chicago Business that she couldn’t disclose the contract sale price, the identity of the buyers or specifics of their plan for the site before the deal closes, but said that “ demolishing the church is a near certainty.”

Wayman AME Church is orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, so a demolition permit would trigger a 90-Day Demolition Delay.

“The value is all in the land,” said Pettis, who has represented other property, both sanctuary buildings and empty land, for the AME council, which has about 20 churches in the Chicago area. A recent appraisal of Wayman AME determined that “the life of this building is gone,” she said. “There’s no sense in even trying to repair it” for a conversion to residential units or another use, she said. (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business,

Preservation Chicago respectfully disagrees. Originally known as the First Swedish Baptist Church when completed in 1889, it was located in a dense Swedish neighborhood called Swedetown. Since 1920, the red-brick, Romanesque church building at 509 W. Elm St. has been home to the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal congregation. Essentially surrounded by the Cabrini-Green highrises, it served as a “spiritual haven” an African-American community for nearly a century. The congregation has dwindled from around 250 to approximately 100 congregants with significant recent changes to the neighborhood including the demolition of the highrises, the construction of a mixed-income community, new retail and new market-rate housing.

On October 13, 1992, seven-year old Dantrell Davis was holding his mother’s hand while crossing the street near Wayman AME Church, when he was struck and killed from a sniper’s bullet fired from an adjacent building. The shock and outrage surrounding Davis’s horrific death helped to galvanize support for the City of Chicago and Chicago Housing Authority’ to embark on two-decades long Plan for Transformation which has dramatically changed the Cabrini-Green neighborhood and many public and affordable housing communities across Chicago.

Preservation Chicago considers the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal Church/First Swedish Baptist Church an important historic church building that should be protected and adaptively reused. This building is an excellent example of the Romanesque Church construction and despite some deferred maintenance is in surprisingly good and stable condition. The historic buildings from the Cabrini-Green Neighborhood have almost all been demolished, so this is one of the last standing survivors and must be protected.

Additionally, the church building is located in one small corner of the large vacant lot. The church building occupies approximately 1/20th of the site, or 0.14 acres of the total 2.72-acre lot, so the developer could build extensively without the historic church building interfering.

Additional Reading

Church that served Cabrini-Green sold for residential development, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/25/18

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