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Restoration Of Louis Sullivan-Designed Orthodox Cathedral Nears Finish Line

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral leaders have made smaller fixes and updates over the past few decades, but they said the latest restoration is the property’s biggest facelift so far.

New stucco adorns the walls of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — One of the few houses of worship designed by famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan is wrapping up a months-long exterior restoration this week. 

Since May, Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., has replaced cracked stucco walls, refurbished its extensive metal ornamentation and installed new windows in the church’s rectory, among other projects. 

“It was just one of those things that was greatly needed,” said the Rev. Alexander Koranda, dean and administrator of the parish. “The structure was fine, but the actual aesthetics and outside was in pretty difficult shape, in rough shape.” 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
New stucco adorns the walls of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

Built in 1903, the cathedral and rectory have been an official Chicago landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s. 

Church leaders have made smaller fixes and updates over the past few decades, but they said the latest restoration is the property’s biggest facelift so far. The bulk of the work is expected to be completed by Friday. 

“The exteriors of the buildings are done. They’re doing some touchup stuff,” Koranda said. “We are replacing the concrete steps by the both the sanctuary back door and the office door with new railings … but the major work is complete.” 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Fr. Alexander Koranda lights candles in the nave at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

At first glance, the cathedral’s soaring cupolas and octagonal dome don’t seem to mesh with Sullivan’s better known work, like the Auditorium Building and Carson Pirie Scott department store in The Loop. 

But Koranda says the architect’s style is apparent in many of building’s details, like the archway over the front doors and the metal ornamentation and beading along the cathedral’s windows. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The windows at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

“That canopy over the top when you walk in, that’s like signature Sullivan with the kind of wavy lines and things like that,” he said. 

The total cost of the restoration is expected to run about $600,000. It’s been partially funded by a $250,000 Adopt-A-Landmark grant from the city. 

The rest is being raised privately. So far, the effort has been pretty successful, Koranda said. He’s even had neighbors stop him in the street to pass along a few bucks. 

“People love this temple. It’s a holy site for Orthodox Christians, but even just being a landmark, you know, it’s a very popular site in Chicago,” he said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A worker tends to the new stucco adorns the walls of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

Since its construction in early 1900s, Holy Trinity has been a gathering place for Orthodox Christians in the city and from all over the world. 

Founded by a group of Eastern European immigrants, the cathedral was even partially funded by Russian Czar Nicholas II, according to the city’s landmark directory. 

Inside, the sanctuary’s ornate interior includes paintings of saints and Bible stories, as well as a chandelier designed and donated by Sullivan himself.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The chandelier hangs from the ceiling in the nave at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

Today, the cathedral is home to more than 100 active parishioners, Koranda said. It offers “a minimum” of five services a week, as well as community initiatives like 12-step programs and a weekly Saturday meal. 

“We try to have our doors open, too, for the community to also engage on that kind of level. So I think people have responded well to that. But I think just in general … people just really like the building, and they really like the space,” Koranda said. 

The cathedral is a regular site in the Chicago Architecture Center’s annual Open House Chicago, and has hosted tours during the restoration. The next one scheduled is for Sept. 11. They’re also available by appointment. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Candles are lit near the cross and an image of Saint Nicholas at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, 1121 N. Leavitt St., designed by architect Louis Sullivan in Ukrainian Village on Aug. 24, 2021.

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