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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Despite Efforts To Save Truc Lam Buddhist Temple, 120-Year-Old Building Likely To Meet Wrecking Ball

Originally, the building was known as the Ravenswood Club, and after that it was the Paul Revere Masonic Lodge.

The temple in 2016.
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UPTOWN —The neighborhood’s 120-year-old Truc Lam Temple will soon be demolished to make way for a preschool.

The temple, 1521 W. Wilson Ave., went up for sale in 2017 and soon after the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Association members who worshiped there moved to suburban Elmwood Park.

Although the Buddhist association still owns the property, Viking Development will finalize its purchase of the property as soon as the city signs off on its demolition, according to a spokesman for Viking. The Gardner School, a company focused on early childhood education with preschools located in seven cities across the country, will be the buildings long-term tenant.

Despite attempts by preservationists to save the colorful building, it is very likely to be torn down.

Credit: zenia/Flickr
A Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration at the temple in 2011.

Jay Joiner, a spokesman for The Gardner School and Viking Development, said they are hoping to have a demolition permit “in the next week or two,” and that saving the existing structure was not financially viable for them.

“To make the business functional and viable, we had to enlarge the building,” he said. “To do that we couldn’t use any part of the existing footprint.”

Joiner said construction would likely take around 10 months and that they’re hoping to open in 2021.

Credit: Provided
Early design plans for the newest Gardner School location at 1521 W. Wilson Ave.

Although a preliminary landmark designation was approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in 2004, the property never gained landmark status.

Representatives from the Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Association could not be reached for comment.

Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, said the landmark designation had approval from everyone except the temple. He said the owners did not want to landmark the building. The property fell under the Religious Buildings Ordinance, meaning the city could not force the designation upon the property owners.

Miller said the building had fallen into “some disrepair” but that most of it is cosmetic. He said Preservation Chicago has been working since 2017 to find a buyer who would be interested in preserving the historic structure.

The problem, he said, is a high asking price that “encourages demolition rather than a re-use of the building.” Property records show that the building was purchased for $1,050,000 in 2006.

Originally, the building was known as the Ravenswood Club, and after that it was the Paul Revere Masonic Lodge.

“We have a remarkable set of buildings with a remarkable history but there isn’t the political will to keep it preserved,” Miller said.

He said he was frustrated that local leaders couldn’t get a deal done to save the building.

“It ties back to some of the early history of the community,” Miller said. “It’s a remarkable frame structure that really does sort of set the tone at that corner. With its big parkway and green space in front its a great asset for the community. It’s a waste to see just another four-story mundane piece of architecture there. The loss would be tragic.”

Josh Mark, Ald. Matt Martin’s director of development and infrastructure, said the demolition permit would likely be issued soon.

Miller acknowledged that, despite their best efforts, the building was likely to be torn down. He lamented the loss green space and “yet another” historic structure.

The Gardner School focuses on children from six-weeks-old until they are ready for Kindergarten. They have locations across the Midwest, with several in the Chicagoland area.

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