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Historic Preservation in Depth
For tie-in to the general preservation situation, Blair Kamin's article in Preservation Beat
The St. Gelasius Church preservation issue
service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its website
www.hydepark.org and Preservation and Development/Zoning task force. Join
the Conference: your dues support our work.
Visit Religious Spaces Preservation and Landmarking
March 19 2016, Saturday, 12 pm>. Celebration and St. Joseph's potluck table for saving of Shrine of Christ the King structure. With info on what's next. At 1st Presbyterian social hall, 6400 S. Kimbark. The deed was transfered to the Institute. Phase 1 cleanup and stabilization started the week of April 25.
Update January 9 2016. Last October, the building suffered a serious fire. Since then the archdiocese has obtained a demo permit, saying it cannot afford to rebuild, and the city has said it must do something to ensure the public safety. Since, enough was raised so the Archdiocese relented and deeded the structure and land to the Institute.
According to Jack Spicer, The [Landmarks Commission] hearing room Jan 7 2016 was packed with people who came to support St Gelasius. People from the congregation and from the surrounding community testified to the importance to them of the historic church building. The people asked the Commissioners merely for more time to find a way to save the building.
The Commission replied that all it could do was insist that the owner, the Archdiocese of Chicago, protect the public from potential danger as a result of the recent fire. The Archdiocese can choose how to do that -- rebuild, stabilize, or demolish; but it must do something. The Archdiocese claims it cannot afford to rebuild or even stabilize, and has obtained a demolition permit. They could begin demolition at any moment.
The people asked the commissioners to use their influence to encourage the Archdiocese to give the congregation and the community more time to save their church. If you would like to add your voice to those who are asking the Archdiocese for more time, please go to this website:
In this page: Coverage on the St. Gelasius Church (64th and Woodlawn) issue, whether religious-owned/used properties can be landmarked in Chicago. The Commission in a bold challenge sent the recommendation to landmark to Arenda Troutman's City Council Landmarks Committee, which voted January 12 to recommend landmarking to the full City Council. It was approved by the full Council January 14. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese announced it is withdrawing its demolition permit request and will in the future reuse the structure for a religious order's ministry. For the choices and dilemmas this poses see Historic Preservations-News and Bulletins.
Some consider this a misdirected effort, considering the church was already largely bereft of its distinctive features. Note also that the movement of an order into the old structure has not brought restoration of the pantry program, which has now fallen on the shoulders of stand-alone First Presbyterian Church.
Preservations called the Archdiocese's reuse in practical terms irrelevant for the 2-year vacant and stripped building almost demolished but argued that if the city stayed the course a support for preservation of church structures will have been gained. The Supreme Court, following the tack of its decisions in the matter, would doubtless uphold preservation should the Archdiocese yet sue. On October 24, the Landmarks Commission considered for designation, among others, St. Gelasius church. On November 6, the Commission blocked the Archdiocesan demolition permit on grounds the structure is not used as a place of worship and recommended landmark designation to City Council. See two articles on the issues and actions. (Another, by Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago, appears in the January 14 Herald.) A strong coalition including Ald. Troutman (20th), Preservation Chicago, LPCI, and the National Trust worked to save St. Gelasius (formerly St. Clara's). Hyde Park Historical Society sent a letter to Cardinal George asking preservation.
Archdiocese may go to court; hospital on preservationists' endangered list
Setting up a potential legal showdown with the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the city's Commission on Landmarks Thursday denied a demolition permit for a South Side church building and recommended to the City Council that the structure become a protected city landmark.
St. Gelasius Church, at 64th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, has been th subject of an intense preservation battle fo months. City officials decided to save the vacant building, even though a house of worship is exempt from the city's landmark protection ordinance unless its owner consents. City officials have argued that the exemption doesn't apply because the building is no longer being used as a church.
...Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th), who has said she would lie in front of bulldozers to save the structure, said she was thrilled by the commissions' recommendation. "It's a beautiful building," said troutman, adding that there are many more church buildings owned by the archdiocese that are threatened by potential demolition.
The archdiocese nearly demolished St. Gelasius over the summer. But when contractors arrived to shut off the building's power, a nun refused to allow the contractors to enter an adjacent structure that houses St. gelasius' electrical circuitry.
Archdiocesan officials, who say the vacant building would cost millions to maintain, have threatened to sue the city to allow the demolition.
Troutman and archdiocesan officials have also been working on a possible land swap, in which the archdiocese would receive a parcel of land from the city in exchange for the St. Gelasius property.....
Hyde Park Herald, September 10, 2003. By Todd Spivak
Preservationists have secured a most powerful, if unlikely, ally in their effort to rescue the historic 1923 St. Gelasius Church: the City of Chicago.
For months, city officials claimed their hands were tied to save St. Gelasius, located just south of Hyde Park at 6415 S. Woodlawn Ave., due to a city ordinance that exempts religious institutions from landmark status protection impose by the government.
But the city's Law Department last week identified a loophole in the 1987 ordinance that could block the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago from demolishing the structure. "It's our ace in the hole," said Woodlawn Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th), who recently joined the preservationist effort.
According to the city ordinance, "No building that is owned by a religious organization and is used primarily as a place of religious ceremonies shall be designated as a historical landmark without the consent of its owner."
But the city is arguing that St. Gelasius has been devoid of "religious ceremonies" since the archdiocese closed the parish last June, citing a plunge in membership rolls.
Suddenly, the uphill battle led by Woodlawn residents, University of Chicago students and citywide preservationists has reached a plateau. In a packed room 16 stories above the Loop, the Chicago Commission on Landmarks voted unanimously to give the Renaissance Revival church preliminary landmark status.
"So much has been demolished in my ward," testified Troutman at the hearing. "If someone lived in Woodlawn 20 years ago and come back today they would be lost, if not for St. Gelasius Church."
No archdiocese officials attended, though a round of thank-you's were made to the committee by representatives of the Illinois Landmarks Preservation Council, Preservation Chicago, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation."There's been no issue to galvanize the community in such a way as St. Gelasius Church," said Todd Martin, a University of Chicago graduate student and community activist.
Archdiocesan officials say they want to raze the church building because it is too costly to maintain, and are unwilling to sell it because the "want to maintain a presence" in the gentrifying community. Officials did not respond to Herald interview requests, but reportedly are considering filing a lawsuit against the city to prevent preservation. The day before the landmarks committee vote, four diocesan officials met at Troutman's office, 5859 S. State St., for what she described s a tense meeting that lasted more than two hours. "It was like a chess match," said Troutman, "and they were not backing down."
But the powerful Catholic organization, which owns nearly 400 churches across the city, may be forced to withdraw. Troutman said a "land swap" is likely, and wants to either relocate another church denomination into the historic building or convert it into a community center, or perhaps even condominiums.
The issue of whether to landmark St. Gelasius now moves to the City Council Historical Landmark Preservation Committee, which is chaired by Troutman, who guarantees immediate approval.
Hyde Park Herald,
December 10, 2003
Rev. Randall L. Kohls, Ph.D candidate, U C divinity School, Interim pastor, 4th Congregational Church
I have followed your coverage of the St. Gelasius Church controversy with great interest. Your page six article in the Nov. 19th edition demonstrated that your writer either does not see, or choses to ignore, the momentous issue at stake. He never asks why the city has an ordinance exempting religious institutions from having landmark status imposed upon them,or why the archdiocese is considering legal action.
The answer to both questions is quite simple. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion even before it guarantees freedom of speech. In order to freely exercise its religious identity, its religious beliefs, its religious values, its religious ministries and its religious mission, a religious institution must be free to use all of its resources, including its land and buildings, in carrying out its religious mission, values and beliefs. The decision about how best to use those resources must lie with the religious institution. If a church places a higher value on saving souls (or any spiritual ministry) than it does on saving buildings, the First Amendment guarantees it the right to not only hold that value, but yo exercise that value in what it does.
If the archdiocese believes that its religious mission is best carried out by tearing down a building and replacing it with one better suited to religious ministry in the twenty-first century, it must have the right to make that decision based on its religious values. If the archdiocese believes that tearing down St. Gelasius, selling the property and using the proceeds to keep open other financially strapped Catholic parishes, or Catholic schools, or Catholic ministries, it must be free to pursue those religious ends.
The First Amendment ensures that government cannot interfere in church decisions about how to best carry out the church's ministry. The principle of separation of church and state protects the church from just this kind of intrusion by governmental bodies.
The Supreme Court has set the bar very high. Before a governmental body can restrict or deny the free exercise of religion, it must demonstrate that a compelling state interest exists. Historic preservation may be a good thing, but it is not a compelling reason to deny the archdiocese its First Amendment rights. Political activists cannot, and the City Council must not, be allowed to impose a secular value like historic preservation on the church, denying the church's free exercise of its religious beliefs, values and mission. If the City Council will not respect its own ordinance, it mus still respect the Constitution and grant the archdiocese its cherished and protected free exercise of religion. If the City Council refuses to acknowledge the Constitution, then, for the sake of religious freedom, the archdiocese must take legal action to defend its rights—and ours. I will do everything n my power to help.
Hyde Park Herald, January 14, 2004. By Jonathan Fine, Michael Moran: Preservation Chicago. (Letter preceded vote by the City Council landmarks committee on January 12.)
To the Editor:
In a lengthy recent Letter to the Editor (Dec. 10, 2003), Rev. Randall L. Kohls argues in favor of the right of religious bodies to demolish their buildings. His letter had been prompted by the ongoing dispute between citizens and the Archdiocese of Chicago regarding the attempts by the Archdiocese to demolish St. Gelasius Church.
Located at 64th Street and Woodlawn Avenues, St. Gelasius is a stunning example of classical church architecture that has towered over the Woodlawn community since 1924. In response to demolition plans, neighborhood residents formed the Woodlawn Coalition to Save St. Gelasius and worked with Preservation Chicago to push for landmarking.
The City of Chicago rightfully heeded the requests of neighborhood residents and granted preliminary landmark status to St. Gelasius Church. Alderman Arenda Troutman (20th) was instrumental in achieving this action by the city.
Rev. Kohls--who is not affiliated with the Archdiocese--objects to the landmarking of St. Gelasius Church. Meanwhile, the archdiocese is threatening a lawsuit if the City of Chicago completes the process of landmark designation. Both Rev. Kohls and the Archdiocese argue that land use ordinances--including those regarding zoning and landmarking--should not apply to religious bodies.
Rev. Kohls writes that the City Council "must not be allowed to impose secular values like historic preservation on the church, denying the church free expression of its religious beliefs, values, and mission." Apparently, Rev. Kohls believes that religious groups should be able to ignore the development laws by which the rest of society must abide.
Rev. Kohls also states "the principle of separation of church and state protects the church from from just this kind of intrusion by governmental bodies." That statement by Rev. Kohls shows his inherent misunderstanding of the First Amendment to the point that he is turning the First Amendment on its head.
In fact, it is Rev. Kohls who is proposing that we violate the principle of separation of church and state. He would have us allow one group of private individuals--a church congregation, for instance--to be given special rights at the expense of the well-bing of all other persons or groups in a community. Neighborhood residents would be powerless to preserve church buildings even though these buildings are typically the most important and most beautiful of all neighborhood landmarks.
Rev. Kohls' position would allow congregations to demolish blocks of historic homes to expand church parking lots and to construct behemoth entertainment centers, all under the guise of "religious freedom."
The principle of landmarking without owner consent is a basic fact of real estate ownership. Landmarking ordinances and zoning regulations serve the citizenry in a manner that is fair to all parties, including the owners of historic buildings. These policies have been upheld repeatedly by courts nationwide. Religious buildings are not exempt from these regulations. The fairness of these practices applies to religious buildings just as it applies to all buildings.
It was simply incorrect for Rev. Kohls to suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court would be on the side of churches in development issues. To the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with historic preservation in exactly these types of cases.
In the only relevant cases that reached the U.S. Supreme Court--one involving a New York City church and the other involving a Boerne, Texas church--the court sided with the municipalities that sought to preserve historic buildings.
The Supreme Court found that governments had every right and obligation to regulate land use in these cases. The court found further that there was no restraint of religious freedom by such regulation. The court found that true "separation of church and state" meant that church owners are not allowed to ignore the urban planning policies of mentalities.
The city's Law Department should be aware that lower federal courts could conceivably side with the Archdiocese. However, considering the above-mentioned Supreme Court decisions, the Daley administration should stick to its guns regarding the landmarking of St. Gelasius Church. In other words, if the Archdiocese files a lawsuit in opposition to landmarking, the City of Chicago should be confident that it will ultimately prevail in court. It is clear that the constitutional precedent would be on the side of citizens--an on the side of the City of Chicago--in this dispute. That is why the City of Chicago must make a commitment at the outset to stay th course in any preservation-related court battle with the Archdiocese, even if that means finishing the right in front of nine justices in Washington, DC.
The following was passed on by the Hyde Park Historical Society e-group.
This article from today's
[January 11, 204] Sun-Times is good news, and a tribute to the hard work of
Ald. Arenda Troutman, Preservation Chicago AND our own Hyde Park Historical
Society Preservation Committee which has worked long and hard to save the building.
However, landmark status is still needed for St. Gelasius to protect it against future changes-of-mind by the Archdiocese.
Chicago Sun-Times, January 11, 2004
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN Staff Reporter
At the 11th hour Friday, the Archdiocese of Chicago withdrew its request to demolish a historic Woodlawn church that has been the subject of an intense preservation battle for the last six months.
The archdiocese said it has found a use for St. Gelasius Church, which closed in 2002. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer wouldn't elaborate, saying only that "we think we'll be able to use it for ministerial uses in the future."
On the surface, this may appear a victory for preservationists who have fought to save the 80-year-old Renaissance Revival-style structure at 64th and Woodlawn, but that's not the way they read it.
They believe this is a ploy by the archdiocese to avoid a pending landmark designation for the church. The archdiocese strongly opposes landmark protection. The City Council's landmark committee is scheduled to vote Monday, followed by a full City Council vote Wednesday.
Buildings used primarily for religious purposes can't be landmarked. St. Gelasius isn't eligible for that exemption because it isn't functioning as a church now, but that could change with Friday's decision.
The archdiocese is "basically building a case to have the exemption apply to them," said Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago. "This is bad news, really bad news."
Added Todd Martin, a Woodlawn resident who has been fighting to save the church: "One would like to applaud them for making the withdrawal, but realistically this is probably a last-ditch ploy to avoid being landmarked."
Dwyer wouldn't take the bait: "We do what we think is right for the archdiocese," he said. "If someone wants to be suspicious that's up to them."
Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th), who lives near the church and is chairwoman of the landmarks committee, said Monday's vote would go forward as planned.
"The issue is protecting this historic structure, this outstanding piece of Woodlawn's history," Troutman said. She and others question the constitutionality of the exemptions from landmark protection.
"We'll probably see ourselves fighting this out in court," Troutman said.
The archdiocese says landmark protection -- a move that effectively takes demolition off the table -- is an unfair burden.
"We believe the government does not have the right to force a church building [to stay open] after we've already made the difficult decision to close it," Dwyer said. "We'll be forced to use limited resources on a church where there isn't a congregation.
"That may be a worthwhile goal, but we don't exist to maintain buildings, we exist to minister to people."
Dwyer also said he thought the decision to withdraw their demolition permit renders the landmarking unnecessary.
"There is no need to vote, but we do not have control over that decision," he said.
From the Chicago Sun-Times, January 13, 2004:
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
An 80-year-old Renaissance Revival church hailed as a "visual landmark for all of Woodlawn" would be granted official landmark status -- and shielded from the wrecking ball -- under a protection advanced by a City Council committee Monday over the objections of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The archdiocese denounced the landmark designation for St. Gelasius Church, 6401 S. Woodlawn, as a violation of constitutional protections and a classic case of legislative overkill.
The archdiocese last week withdrew its July application for a demolition permit after a group of priests in Wausau, Wis., agreed to establish a ministry at St. Gelasius.
"The city does not . . . have the right to impose landmark designation on this property over the objections of the church. . . . It's a question of fundamental rights -- not just property rights but the right to religious liberty," said Jim Geoly, an attorney representing the archdiocese.
Geoly scoffed at the city's claim that a church that has stood vacant for nearly two years should not be afforded those religious protections.
Churches are exempt from the city's landmarks ordinance unless they consent to the designation. The Department of Planning and Development has argued that the church was no longer a house of worship since it was not in use.
"The archdiocese . . . is returning the building to daily mass," Geoly said. "It does not matter . . . whether daily mass gets resumed today, tomorrow or next week. This isn't about gamesmanship. It's simply about a good faith application and the exemption for buildings owned by religious organizations used primarily for religious ceremony. That is what this building is."
David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, urged aldermen not to be fooled by the 11th-hour application.
"This building remains vacant. It is not being used for religious purposes. There are no pews. There is no altar. There are no religious statues or other icons. It is a long-stripped and vacant building where, only very recently, bulldozers stood ready to tear it down so that it could be replaced by something the community doesn't need: a vacant lot," Bahlman said.
Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th), the Landmarks Committee chairman whose ward includes St. Gelasius, sided with the preservationists. "It's been two years that the building has sat vacant and the threat of the wrecking ball" has been hanging over Woodlawn residents, Troutman said. "We are very anxious to see that this threat never happens again and that this beautiful 80-year-old structure is preserved."
With a 120-foot-high bell tower that has been a focal point in Woodlawn for decades, St. Gelasius was supposed to be demolished in July, only to be saved by divine intervention.
A nun refused to give contractors access to an adjacent property to stage demolition equipment. That gave the city's Department of Construction and Permits an opportunity to revoke the demolition permit on a technicality. The application inaccurately listed the number of stories on the adjoining rectory.
The Chicago Sun-Times January 14, 2004
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Mayor Daley is a devout Roman Catholic. But he draws the line against the Archdiocese of Chicago when it comes to preserving historic churches.
On the eve of a City Council vote that could set the stage for a church vs. state lawsuit, Daley sided with preservationists in the battle over landmark protection for St. Gelasius Church, 6401 S. Woodlawn.
"It should be a landmark. . . . It's very important to landmark it. The people of the 20th Ward want to preserve that church. It has historical significance," Daley said.
"That church has been vacant. All of the sudden [when] we're going to landmark it, the church comes back and says, 'We're going to have services.' Where have they been for many years on services? You just can't show up all of the sudden . . . and the city is not going to landmark. Many of the churches should be landmarked. They have great historical significance, great tradesmen and artists."
The City Council's Landmarks Committee agreed this week to designate the church -- an 80-year old Renaissance Revival building hailed as a "visual landmark for all of Woodlawn" -- as an official landmark to shield it from the wrecking ball.
The archdiocese denounced the move as a violation of constitutional protections and a classic case of legislative overkill.
Churches are exempt from the city's landmarks ordinance unless they consent to the designation. The Department of Planning and Development has argued that the church was no longer a house of worship, since it was not in use.
The archdiocese vehemently disagreed. Attorney Jim Geoly noted that the church withdrew its application for a demolition permit last week after a group of priests headquartered in Wausau, Wis., agreed to establish a ministry at St. Gelasius.
Hyde Park Herald, January 21, 2004. By Todd Spivak
Backed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Chicago City Council last Wednesday overwhelmingly approved official landmark status for St. Gelasius Church, 6410 S. Woodlawn Ave. The designation came less than a week after the Archdiocese of Chicago withdrew its request to demolish the 80-year-old structure with plans to reopen the building for prayer services.
"It's a great victory that the architectural beauty of St. Gelasius will be preserved for future generations," said Woodlawn Ald. Arenda Troutman (20th) whose ward includes the church.
Despite the apparent rescue of St. Gelasius, preservationists remain skeptical of the archdiocese's intentions. They worry the archdiocese's plan to re-open the church, which has gone unused for two years, is a ploy to avoid landmark designation and keep open the possibility for eventual demolition
According to a city ordinance, churches and other religious institutions are exempt from landmark protection imposed by the government. In the case of St. Gelasius, the city circumvented this law by arguing that the building was no longer a house of worship since it was not in use.
After the Council vote on wednesday, Archdiocesan officials condemned the landmark designation as "unnecessary" and said they would consider filing a lawsuit against the city. "The action taken today," said Archdiocesan Chancellor James M. Lago in a statement, "ignores the fundamental principle of religious freedom from state interference. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the rights of religious groups to worship and minister as their religious beliefs direct." Archdiocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer said, "Since we were not going to demolish the building anymore, there was no need to landmark it."
Dwyer confirmed a group of Roman Catholic priests from Wisconsin wilt now occupy the church and eventually hold services there for the greater Woodlawn community.
The eight-month-long effort to save St. Gelasius Church has been led by advocacy groups Preservation chicago and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, as well as area residents and University of Chicago students. Last week, even the mayor jumped to the defense of the Renaissance Revival church. "It's very important to landmark [St. Gelasius]," Daley told the Chicago Sun-times. "The people of the 20th ward want to preserve that church. It has historical significance."