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Century-Old St. Stephenson Church Slated To Be Demolished On Near West Side

Preservationists fought to save the church. A company managed by billionaire Steve Sarowitz aims to level it and replace it with a four- or five-story building, according to city documents.

St. Stephenson Church, 1319 S. Ashland Ave., is slated to be demolished
Matt Wicklund
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NEAR WEST SIDE — A century-old Near West Side church that has served as home to a number of congregations over the years is slated to be demolished.

The old church at 1319 S. Ashland Ave. near Addams/Medill Park was most recently home to the St. Stephenson Missionary Baptist Church. A demolition permit was issued to raze the three-story building on Jan. 6, city records show.

The church was built in 1905, according to the city and Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

4S Bay Partners, managed by billionaires Steve and Jessica Sarowitz, aims to level the church and replace it with a four- or five-story building, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The building would house community service businesses and nonprofit collaboration space.

The couple recently helped buy a building for the Chatham Workforce Center to open in.

Steve Sarowitz made his fortune as founder of software company Paylocity, and the couple founded Highland Park-based Julian Grace Foundation.

The Sarowitzes’ attorney, Rolando Acosta, declined to comment on the demolition or project. Calls and emails to the Julian Grace Foundation seeking information on the project were not returned.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) also did not return calls.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/Block Club Chicago
Scaffolding has gone up around St. Stephenson Church in advance of a planned demolition.

Last year, a city-mandated 90-day demolition delay was imposed on the project. The demolition hold later expired.

As of Monday night, scaffolding had been erected around the building.

Miller, a preservation activist, said he hoped the developer would’ve worked to at least preserve the Ashland-facing facade of the church as part of the site’s redevelopment.

“We are at a tipping point here in Chicago,” Miller said. “We really need some radical reform to preserve the historic environment and some new ordinances to protect our historic buildings, neighborhoods and our residents from these terrible developments.”

Credit: Matt Wicklund
St. Stephenson Church, 1319 S. Ashland Ave., is slated to be demolished. Credit: Matt Wicklund

During and after the demo-hold period, city officials discussed reusing parts of the historic church with the developer, said Peter Strazzabosco, Department of Planning and Development spokesman. Officials pointed to the Epiphany Center for the Arts and St. Boniface Church as examples of adaptive reuse, according to city records.

While demolition is imminent, developers have yet to formally submit a zoning application for the future building, Strazzabosco said.

Credit: Provided by Matt Wicklund
Built in 1905, the church was home to multiple congregations through the years.

Last fall, the Maxwell Street Foundation urged city officials to “broker an agreement with the developer” to at least save the facades for preservation and reuse before a demolition permit be granted.

The church built by Theodore Duesing was previously home to the Second German Evangelical Zion Church, according to the Maxwell Street Foundation.

“This building has significance for our group because this was the church built by a German congregation when they vacated a German Church and school in the old Maxwell Street area, the history of which we protect and interpret,” the foundation’s secretary Laura Kamedulski wrote in a letter to the city. “This is a time-sensitive matter as demolition is imminent.”

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
St. Stephenson Church, 1319 S. Ashland Ave. is slated for demolition on the Near West Side.

The loss of another century-old building underscores the need for an ordinance to better protect buildings more than 50 years old, Miller said.

“We are falling behind to protect a city known for architecture,” Miller said. “If we aren’t careful, we may just sink what’s important to our city if we don’t get serious about protecting these historic structures that are so unique to the city of Chicago.”

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