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 has been shuttered since 2011. Earlier preservation efforts in the 1990’s resulted in the church being included in the Jackson Boulevard Landmark District Extension which prevented demolition. However, pairing users with historic buildings is the only way to protect them against deferred maintenance and Chicago’s harsh winters. Preservation Chicago’s primary efforts has been to 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 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 new use will include performing arts and event space in the former church, along with galleries and studios. A roof top 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 neighbors of the Jackson Boulevard Landmark District regarding support for a potential liquor license, noise restrictions, hours of operations, managing deliveries, and protecting the historic alleyway. A zoning change is required 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, followed by a procession of thousands of carriages to Graceland Cemetery. (Chicago Tribune, 12/6/1936)
In the 1960’s, 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 gunned down along with fellow Black Panther during a highly controversial Chicago Police raid on his West Side apartment at 2337 W. Monroe Street. (Chicago Tribune, 12/4/14)
In the 1990’s 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 restoration effort and undertook the Landmark Designation. 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, carved sandstone alter, unique Tiffany mosaics, rare terra cotta walls, incredible art glass, a fine quality and rare 1892 Farrand and Votey organ with an Austin console, other significant interior spaces, and to consider the entire historic complex as a sole Designated Chicago Landmark as part of this redevelopment agreement.