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Preservation News

Chicago Seeks to Overturn Its Owner-Consent Provision

 

 
 

Should Religious Properties Be Landmarked?

 

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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).

 

In February 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 properties.

 

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.

 

Chicago's Religious Structures:
An Endangered Resource

 

A special thank you to LPCI intern Elizabeth Blair for her research on the topic of Religious Properties.

 

(top to bottom) (photos a,b) St. Leo Catholic Church, Chicago (photos c,d,e) St. Leo Catholic Church, Chicago (demolition)

 
 

 

  Information

 

The Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in collaboration with Partners for Sacred Places, has just compiled a series of case studies showing new uses for closed religious properties from communities across the country. To learn more visit the NTHP site: www.nationaltrust.org/houses_of_worship.

 
   

 

 

 

 

 

Landmarks Illinois
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