PILSEN — Officials finally are taking the first steps to landmark Pilsen’s iconic St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church after a years-long fight by former parishioners to preserve it.
The city’s Department of Planning and Development is beginning a preliminary landmark recommendation report for the former church at 1650 W. 17th St., Commissioner Maurice Cox said at a community meeting Tuesday night.
Cox’s announcement is the first public commitment from city leaders to preserve the church, which was deconsecrated last year and twice has been put up for sale by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“We’ve heard a lot about [how] St. Adalbert’s should be preserved, and we agree,” Cox said. “The city is ready to commit to preparing the designation report and to coordinate with the Archdiocese for designation and redevelopment of St. Adalbert.”
The comments came during the final community meeting for a contentious plan to landmark portions of the neighborhood.
During the two previous meetings, Pilsen residents, former parishioners and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) questioned city officials for advocating for an unpopular landmark designation while ignoring community efforts to protect the beloved church.
The church was left out of the landmark designation introduced in November 2018. Following its deconsecration in July 2019, Sigcho-Lopez introduced an ordinance to landmark the church and rectory.
Groups fighting to save the church submitted a separate recommendation to landmark the convent at the 2.1-acre site.
In previous hearings, Cox reasoned the former church was in no immediate danger of demolition. But Tuesday, Cox told residents he heard them loud and clear and is moving forward with the landmark process.
“This is an iconic landmark in Pilsen; that is without dispute,” Cox said. “The city can begin the process of designation without the consent of the Archdiocese.”
While the Archdiocese owns the property, the city would begin the designation report and would coordinate with the Archdiocese for any redevelopment scenarios, Cox said.
Some residents at the virtual meeting praised the news. The Society of St. Adalbert group has pitched a plan for a B&B-style retreat house at the site, while one resident said she wanted to see low-income housing there.
Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for the city’s planning department, said the preparation of a preliminary report was the “first step in the city’s landmark designation process.”
The report will “propose protected features for the church structure, which typically include all exterior elevations, rooflines and other notable elements,” he said in an email.
The planning department is also assessing whether the St. Adalbert church building and the convent could be included under the landmarks ordinance, Strazzabosco said.
The preliminary recommendation could be considered by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in the spring.
Properties must meet at least two of seven criteria to be eligible for landmark status, Strazzabosco said.
Under the city’s landmarks ordinance, owner consent is required for designation of active religious houses of worship. However, “owner consent is advisory for buildings no longer used for religious services,” Strazzabosco said.
Archdiocese spokesman Alejandro Castillo declined to comment.
In the last four years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has twice gone under contract to sell the property, but the deals have fallen through.
Most recently, City Pads, a developer that 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.
A year later, the Archdiocese and the developer said the deal was off the table but would not say why.
A real estate listing for the church remains online and has been updated to reflect the property is no longer under contract. The church is for sale for $3.95 million, according to the listing.
Last year, after Block Club reported the $4 million contract, City Pads said it would not put housing in the former sanctuary building. At the time, City Pads said it wanted to build a co-living apartment building on the site.
The company also had plans to rehab the convent and rectory to make way for more apartments.
The property — consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and a parking lot — spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood. 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.
The Archdiocese tried to sell the church building in November 2016, when it contracted with the Chicago Academy of Music. That deal also fell through.
In September 2018, the Archdiocese hired commercial real estate firm SVN Chicago to try to sell the property again. A real estate listing at the time infuriated some Pilsen residents because it touted the church’s towers as “perfect for penthouse units.” The language was later removed.
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