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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

90-Year-Old West Side Church Moves Closer To Landmark Status: ‘North Lawndale Is Not A Wasteland; It Is A Promised Land’

Pentecostal Church of Holiness moved into what was originally a Catholic parish serving a mostly Czech population and today serves a hub for the surrounding community.

Pentecostal Church of Holiness was originally built by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
Edward Gerns / Landmarks Illinois
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NORTH LAWNDALE — The Pentecostal Church of Holiness in the K-Town neighborhood of Lawndale received preliminary landmark status Thursday.

Members of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted Thursday to approve the initial landmark status for the church at 1444 S. Keeler Ave. The designation protects the building from demolition while the city evaluates whether to make the church a permanent landmark.

Landmark status would help residents to reclaim the narrative about the West Side, Pastor Chaun Johnson said. The recognition also would uplift the efforts to revitalize the neighborhood, which are often driven by community churches, he said.

“We believe that North Lawndale can and will dispel the myths about the poor because North Lawndale is not a wasteland. It is a promised land,” Johnson said.  “This landmark would actually bring something beautiful to our community.”

Lawndale residents sent 56 letters of support for making the church a landmark. Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Danny K. Davis, and Ald. Michael Scott (24th) also supported the designation.

For Pentecostal Church of Holiness, the landmark designation wouldn’t simply be a recognition of the Romanesque-revival style architecture with art deco influence, the commission noted. It also acknowledges the historical value of the church as a community hub in K-Town.

The church has been a pillar for Lawndale since 1931, when it was a Catholic parish known as Our Lady of Lourdes serving a mostly Czech population. The church remained a central part of K-Town even as the area transformed to a Black community in the 50s, as racist housing policy and disinvestment made it one of the poorest parts of Chicago.

White flight from Lawndale dropped membership at Our Lady of Lourdes from 900 parishioners in 1950 to 125 by 1956, according to the city’s planning department.

But in the 60s, the church began expanding its social programs to support neighborhood residents. The church implemented several employment programs including Lawndale for Better Jobs, which helped 300 residents find jobs in one year, according to the planning department. The program became a model for other city employment initiatives, planning officials said.

Even after becoming a Pentecostal congregation in 2005, the church continues the legacy as a center for advancing the quality of life in Lawndale.

“What you’re putting forward, it’s clear that it’s more than about a building. It’s about a community,” said Commissioner Suellen Burns.

The church’s ministries continue to support job seekers in the area. They also have programs that provide free food, education resources, mental health services and clothing to residents, said parishioner Nina Drape, who is also a prayer coordinator for the church.

“We do so much work within the community. … We are hearing the needs of the people and we are trying our best to meet those needs,” Drape said.

The building has declined since the 60s when its Catholic membership decreased. Johnson is working to restore its former glory with the assistance of Landmarks Illinois, which gave the church a $2,500 grant and helped bring a pro-bono preservation architect guide the restoration work that must be done.

“If the church is transformed as a beacon of the community, as a light of the community, we can transform others, and transform the lives,” Johnson said.

The city’s zoning committee and City Council must also approve landmark status in order for it to become permanent.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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