NORTH LAWNDALE — A 90-year-old church on the West Side is one step closer to becoming city landmark.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously Thursday to recommend landmark status for Pentecostal Church of Holiness in the K-Town neighborhood of North Lawndale.
The designation must now be approved by the city’s zoning committee and the full City Council to become official.
Planning Department Commissioner Maurice Cox commended the effort to make the church a landmark “for ensuring that enormous edifice will be passed on to future generations.”
The landmark status would boost efforts by Pastor Chaun Johnson to restore and preserve the historically significant architecture of Pentecostal Church of Holiness, 1444 S. Keeler Ave. The designation will protect the building from demolition and allow the church to access tax incentives and other financial benefits.
“We’re not just a beautiful place that has a Romanesque Revival significance… but we’re treating our community as a significant place where it can be revived again,” Johnson said.
The landmark designation was supported by Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois, which also assisted Johnson in restoring the building by providing site visits, grants, pro-bono technical assistance and assessments, said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois.
Preserving the church recognizes not only the beauty of the architecture, but also the historic value of the church as a community hub in K-Town.
Pentecostal Church of Holiness 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.
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.
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. The building began to decline in the 60s due to the loss of church membership, and the landmark status would help galvanize efforts to restore the church to its former glory, Johnson 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.
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. The church is currently working on vaccination initiatives to provide relief from the pandemic, and the congregation is also working to establish a community garden, Johnson said.
“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.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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