The West Side has a new Chicago landmark: the 90-year-old Pentecostal Church of Holiness in the K-Town neighborhood of North Lawndale.
The landmark designation was approved by City Council on May 26, giving the building at 1444 S. Keeler Ave. protection from demolition and access to tax and financial incentives. The church’s Pastor Chaun Johnson started pursuing landmark status in 2019.
“We want to ensure that those who hear about North Lawndale will know that there is a lily in the valley. There is beauty in what seems to be degradation,” said Pastor Chaun Johnson.
The church was originally founded as a Catholic parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, that served the predominantly Czech population who migrated to Lawndale from the Pilsen neighborhood. The Catholic parish was originally a wooden building, but as the congregation grew, it was rebuilt in 1932 in the Romanesque Revival-style architecture that survives today.
The church remained a central part of K-Town even as the area transformed to a Black community in the ’50s, as racist housing policy and disinvestment made it one of the poorest parts of Chicago.
The landmark status also recognizes the contributions of Bishop Michael R. Dempsey and the legacy of social service upheld at Pentecostal Church of Holiness since his tenure there.
Dempsey became pastor of Pentecostal in 1965 as unemployment in Lawndale was growing markedly and the membership of the church was shrinking. Dempsey founded a program called Lawndale for Better Jobs to help residents find employment. In one year, over 300 people were granted jobs, planning department officials said.
Lawndale for Better Jobs was eventually modeled into a citywide program that served over 93,000 job-seekers by 1973. The program was given national recognition after a visit from then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Even after becoming a Pentecostal congregation in 2005, the church continues the legacy as a center for advancing the quality of life in Lawndale.
The church’s ministries continue to support job seekers in the area. They also have programs that provide free food, education resources, mental health services and clothing to residents. The church is currently working on vaccination initiatives to provide relief from the pandemic, and the congregation is also working to establish a community garden, Johnson said.
“I want to preserve it. We want to preserve our history, and demonstrate and show the community that we are invested in our neighborhood,” Johnson said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.