In 1987, the Chicago City Council
amended its local preservation ordinance to include an owner-consent requirement
for the landmark designation of religious properties. Property-owner consent for
other properties, however, is not required.
Since that time, only a few houses
of worship have been designated as protected Chicago Landmarks. Today, only five
percent of the city’s 217 individual landmarks are churches or synagogues.
This is less than any other city
surveyed by LPCI, including: St. Louis, where 28% of its individual landmarks
are religious properties, Cleveland (27%), Baltimore (25%), New Orleans and
Omaha (14%), St. Paul (11%), Kansas City (9%), and New York (7%).
Today, only five percent of Chicago's 217 individual landmarks are churches or
synagogues. Lowest among cities surveyed.
Unfortunately, as development
pressures in Chicago have recently increased, architecturally significant
churches and synagogues are being demolished. In the past several years, at
least a dozen religious properties listed in the Chicago Historic Resources
Survey have been lost, including: Buena Park Presbyterian Church (4247 N.
Sheridan), North Shore Spanish Baptist Church (4401 N. Hermitage), Congregation B.H.H. Synagogue (4601 N. Lawndale),
St. Leo’s Catholic Church (7752 S.
Emerald), and St. Ludmilla’s Catholic Church (2400 S. Albany).
2005, Ald. Burton Natarus and
eight other Chicago alderman introduced legislation that would eliminate the
ordinance’s owner-consent provision for religious properties. (Natarus
represents the 42nd Ward, which includes much of the Loop and Near North Side.)
A City Council hearing scheduled for March was postponed, based on a request by
the Archdiocese of Chicago. This matter is now expected to be heard in early
May. LPCI strongly supports Alderman
Natarus’ legislation. We have conferred with several attorneys who confirm that
this proposal does not violate any religious freedom laws. We also have surveyed
jurisdictions nationwide and have found only three — Pittsburgh, Pa., California and
Washington State —
that have owner-consent requirements for religious
Furthermore, in order to counter the
argument that vacant churches pose an economic hardship on their owners, we have
identified dozens of religious properties throughout Illinois that have been
sold and successfully converted to other uses in recent years, many of them for
residential and institutional purposes.
A special thank
you to LPCI intern Elizabeth Blair for her research on the topic of Religious
(top to bottom) (photos a,b) St. Leo Catholic
Church, Chicago (photos c,d,e) St. Leo Catholic Church, Chicago (demolition)