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Uptown Podcast Works To Preserve Memory Of Preston Bradley Center, Historical Church For Sale

The Preston Bradley Center is for sale for the first time since it was built 95 years ago.

Ben Tompkins plans to record his new Uptown Community Podcast in the sam studio used by the Rev. Preston Bradley in what is now the Preston Bradley Center.
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UPTOWN — An Uptown resident is dedicating his podcast to honoring the memory and sharing the history of the Preston Bradley Center.

Ben Tompkins started the Uptown Community Podcast late last year as a way to document the neighborhood and people and places that make it special. The podcast had a focus around the Preston Bradley Center and the churches and service organizations that call the nearly 100-year-old auditorium home.

“I want to extend the coexisting that happens in the Preston Bradley building with the rest of the Uptown community,” Tompkins said last year.

Now, with the Preston Bradley Center for sale, Tompkins will use his podcast to highlight the building’s history in Uptown and the work of the building’s namesake, Rev. Preston Bradley.

Bradley funded the Peoples Church, a progressive Christian congregation. After using different buildings in Uptown, Bradley had the center built in 1925 at 941 W. Lawrence Ave. It is now known as the Preston Bradley Center.

Credit: Eric Allix Rogers/Open House Chicago
Preston Bradley Center.

The church, cultural center and social services building has been listed for sale. The six-story building includes a nearly 1,300-seat auditorium with two balconies. It has a large hall or event space, office space and art studios, according to the listing by MB Real Estate.

RELATED: Uptown’s Historical Preston Bradley Center, With 1,300-Seat Auditorium, For Sale

Located in Uptown’s historic district and near its entertainment corridor, the building could be repositioned as a more public-facing building. That could put in jeopardy its status of the home of the Peoples Church.

Tompkins is hoping his podcast can help preserve the building and the church’s legacy for years to come.

“It’s such a unique space,” said Tompkins, who is a member of the Peoples Church. “I want to talk to people who have known this space and can capture what the building is about.”

Tompkins will be aided in his work by the donation of archival audio reels from Bradley’s radio sermons.

The defunct radio that broadcast Bradley’s show sent boxes of audio reels to the Peoples Church. Tompkins is working to archive the shows and is splicing some of the content into his podcast.

“These are inspirational messages he was broadcasting in the ’60s and ’70s,” Tompkins said. “I want to keep these alive and breathe life into them, rather than just forward them to a museum where they might collect dust.”

READ: Uptown Took In Chicago Transplant. Now, He’s Recording Podcast About The Neighborhood

The Unitarian Universalist Church, of which the Peoples Church is a member, gave the congregation a $7,000 grant to preserve Bradley’s recordings, Tompkins said. Tompkins also started a fundraiser to boost his podcast, helping to buy it server space and create a website for the show.

Recent episodes of the Uptown Community Podcast have highlighted the Preston Bradley Center’s behind-the-scenes role in making the neighborhood what it is today.

That includes episodes on the origins of the men’s shelter that came to occupy the basement, the evolution of the food pantry run out of the building and interviews with the artists who rent space in the center.

The project will hopefully remind people of the history and importance of the Peoples Church and the Preston Bradley Center, just as the two institutions’ fates are unclear in an ever-changing Uptown.

“It’s not just the bricks and mortar,” Tompkins said. “It’s the people and the memories.”

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