PILSEN — After years of advocacy from neighbors, Pilsen’s St. Adalbert Catholic Church cleared a critical hurdle toward being named a Chicago landmark and securing critical protections for the long-closed building.
The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously Monday in favor of a preliminary landmark recommendation for St. Adalbert’s, 1650 W. 17th St.
The commission is run by the city’s Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation division.
St. Adalbert’s closed in 2019 as part of a consolidation of Catholic churches in the neighborhood. The Archdiocese of Chicago, which owns the building, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the vote.
Buildings must meet at least two of the commission’s seven criteria to be considered for landmarking status.
The commission said St. Adalbert meets four criteria — it’s a critical part of city heritage, it has important architecture, it’s connected to an important architect and it has unique visual features, said Dan Klaiber with the planning department. It also meets the integrity criteria, he said.
The exteriors of all four primary buildings on the St. Adalbert’s campus — the church, rectory, school and convent — are included in the landmark recommendation, Klaiber said.
Dozens of supporters packed into City Hall chambers to speak in favor of the landmarking recommendation during Monday’s hearing, including representatives from Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois.
At one point, spectators broke into song. They sang “Barge,” a Polish song translated from its original Spanish and a favorite of Pope John Paul II.
One Pilsen resident said this “cornerstone” of the Polish and Mexican community for over 100 years needs to be preserved through landmarking.
“We must cherish this site, we must take care of it,” she said.
Rosemary Dominguez, another Pilsen resident, became emotional as she spoke about what St. Adalbert’s means to the community.
“This is about preserving our home,” she said. “I’m not going to apologize for being emotional because this has been a long time coming, fighting for seven years.”
The commission’s preliminary recommendation kicks off a lengthy series of approvals.
Consent from the building owner would be required to landmark active religious houses of worship. However, city officials previously said that consent is only advisory for buildings no longer in use for religious services. St. Adalbert was deconsecrated in 2019.
The landmarks process also includes a public hearing and holding a final vote before the commission before moving to the City Council’s Committee on Zoning and then City Council for a vote by all 50 alderpeople.
Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and neighbors have been pushing to save the church building for years.
The alderman and neighbors said last week they were spurred to kickstart the landmarking process after learning that stained glass windows were being removed from St. Adalbert’s, which the alderman called a “precious treasure” to Pilsen.
Landmarking would prevent the church from being “completely gutted and sold to developers,” he previously said — a repeated source of concern for some neighbors.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which owns the building, previously said St. Adalbert Church is part of neighboring St. Paul Catholic Church, which removed the stained glass after some panes were destroyed by break-ins and vandalism.
“It was determined there was no way to protect these religiously significant pieces while they remained in place,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Archdiocese officials declined to say if they support the former church building’s landmarking.
St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants. The current church building was built in 1912.
The archdiocese announced in February 2016 that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million needed to repair the church’s 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.
As a freshman alderman, Sigcho-Lopez similarly called on the Department of Planning and Development to immediately begin the landmarking procedure. City planning officials said in late 2020 they would pursue preliminary landmark recommendation, but a hearing on the matter did not materialize.
The church was left out of an unpopular Pilsen landmark district proposal that was ultimately scuttled.
Sigcho-Lopez also attempted to downzone the property to force any potential developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners.
Sigcho-Lopez’s ordinance passed the zoning committee in May 2022, despite a representative from the archdiocese at the time saying it would likely sue the city if it passed. It was set to go before the next City Council meeting, but allies of former-Mayor Lori Lightfoot blocked the vote.
Sigcho-Lopez subsequently filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s office against Lightfoot, accusing the mayor of interfering in the rezoning to help the archdiocese.
The zoning ordinance hasn’t been brought up for another vote.
Multiple attempts to sell the building also have fallen through.
The archdiocese tried to sell the church building in November 2016, when it contracted with the Chicago Academy of Music. In September 2018, the archdiocese hired commercial real estate firm SVN Chicago to try to sell the property again.
City Pads, a developer who sparked ire among residents after “whitewashing” a mural at the Casa Aztlan community center, was under contract to buy the church complex for $4 million in September 2019 — months after the church was deconsecrated. But the deal later fell through.
The archdiocese declined to comment last week if there was a buyer lined up.
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