THREATENED: Wayman AME Church Sold for Possible New Development

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 agent told Dennis Rodkin of Crain’s Chicago Business that “demolishing the church is a near certainty. The value is all in the land. That the life of this building is gone,” and that “there’s no sense in even trying to repair it” for a conversion to residential units or another use.” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 6/25/18)

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 public housing Cabrini-Green high-rises, it served as a “spiritual haven” for the African-American community for nearly a century.

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

Additionally, the church building is located in one small corner of an otherwise 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 easily build without the historic church building interfering.

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