The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously on Feb. 4 to begin the process of granting landmark status to North Lawndale’s Pentecostal Church of Holiness, 1444 S. Keeler Ave.,  better known for most of its existence as Our Lady of the Lourdes Catholic church. 

While the parish dates back to 1892, the current structure was built in 1931. While the building is in need of interior repairs, most of the exterior and much of the interior has survived intact. The Chicago Department of the Planning and Development (DPD) recommended the landmark designation because of its rich architecture and its rich history as a community resource over the decades, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.

The application got 56 letters of support, including letters from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. State Representative Danny Davis (7th). If approved, the bill will make the church eligible for city and private grants and tax incentives. Church pastor Pastor Chaun Johnson touted it as a way to reverse the narrative that North Lawndale has nothing worthwhile and reveal the community’s potential.

The landmark vote on Feb. 4 is the first step in a landmarking process that includes city officials researching the impact of landmarking the building on the surrounding community, a final landmark commission vote on whether to send it to the Chicago City Council and the full council casting the final vote on whether the landmark designation will be granted.

During the Feb. 4 meeting, city planning officials said the original wooden church and the parish school were built to accommodate the needs of a growing population of Czech immigrants. By the 1930s, the Czech-American community grew to the point where they needed a bigger church. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the population became majority Black, and so did the congregation. White flight led to the closure of many existing businesses and increased poverty, a reality that city planning officials said was the result of “racist housing policies and exploitative real estate practices.” 

Under the leadership of Bishop Michael R. Dampsey, the church launched an array of social services and the North Lawndale for Better Jobs community work development program. The Lady of the Lourdes parish was shut down by the Catholic Church of Chicago in 2004. 

The Pentecostal Church of Holiness took over the building, while the Lawndale Christian Legal Center recently got the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals’ approval to turn the former parish school at 1449 S. Keeler Ave. into a transitional housing facility for youth trying to rebuild their lives after being released from prison. 

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy at the Landmarks Illinois historical preservation nonprofit, said that her organization has been helping the congregation figure out the costs of repairs the building would need and gave it the $25,000 Preservation Heritage Fund Grant to help cover those costs.

“[The building] is clearly an anchor for its intersection, for its neighborhood, and the people who are clearly committed to this place,” DiChiera said. “It has had a very strong presence in the community  for a very long time. So, again, we wholeheartedly support it and congratulate Pastor Johnson and his congregation for all the work they’re doing.”

Johnson recalled that, about six years ago, an “opportunist” developer approached him, and was dismissive that the church had any value, because North Lawndale didn’t have any value. He said that the landmark designation would help change that narrative.

“We believe [our church] will dispel the myths, because North Lawndale is not a wasteland — it’s a promise land,” Johnson said. 

Nina Drape, a mental health therapist and a member of the church’s congregation since 2011, testified that the landmark designation would allow the church to continue serving the community. 

“We are feeding families, we provided coats, we provided toys, we provided prayer in the community. I even provided mental health services within the community,” she said. “We’re pushing that we’re a 24-hour church, and people can come to our doors at any time of the day, so that they can receive whatever assistance they need.”

Miracle House clears Landmarks commission, heads to City Council 

Galewood’s iconic “Miracle House,” at 2001 N. Nordica Avenue, is only two voting rounds away from becoming a landmark after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously on Feb. 4 to send it to the Chicago City Council for final approval.

The 1955 house stands out because of glass walls and two sets of spider-like steel arms that keep the second floor suspended. Dr. David Scheiner, the current owner and Barack Obama’s former personal physician, requested the landmark designation to preserve it. 

The commission gave the designation preliminary approval on Dec. 3. The Department of Planning and Development reviewed the designation’s potential effect on the community, telling the commission on Jan. 7 that it found no adverse impact. With Scheiner officially giving consent to the designation, the application came back to the commission on Feb. 9 for a final vote.

The application now goes before the Chicago City Council, where it would need to clear the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, before going to the full Council for final approval. In the full Council, the designation approvals are usually routine and approved as part of the broader package of motions. 

While the exact timing varies, the applications usually get sent to the committee at the nearest council meeting, and clearing the committee takes another month. This means that, assuming no delays, the council may approve the Miracle House’s landmark designation as soon as March 24.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...