GRAND BOULEVARD — The birthplace of gospel music and one of Chicago’s most palatial residences are among 12 city structures chosen for Adopt-A-Landmark grants.
Bronzeville’s Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, 4501 S. Vincennes Ave., and South Loop’s Glessner House, 1800 S. Prairie Ave., are slated to receive $900,000 and $100,000, respectively, through the city program, which aims to preserve institutions important to Chicago’s history.
Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave., also is in line for a $250,000 grant.
The grants need to be approved by the city landmarks commission, which reviewed the finalists Thursday. Grants for more than $250,000 must also be approved by City Council.
Once awarded, the money can pay for exterior renovations that are visible from the street or interior renovations that are publicly accessible.
For Ebenezer, which dates back 119 years, this grant means church leaders can finally make vital roof repairs and restore stained glass windows throughout the sanctuary. At its height, Ebenezer drew 1,200 worshippers to Sunday services.
Trustee Stanley Stovall said though membership has dwindled, the church weathered the COVID-19 pandemic by spreading the gospel worldwide on Facebook Live.
“We’re down to less than 200 members, but we’ve done what we can to keep everything running,” said Stovall, whose roots at Ebenezer span generations. “People tune in from wherever they are to watch our service and send donations. We’re grateful.”
The dignitaries who sat in the sanctuary are as storied as the building itself. From Mahalia Jackson to Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer was the first stop for many during the Civil Rights Movement. It was here King made his sermon, “A Knock At Midnight,” during a trip north.
It’s also known as the birthplace of gospel music; leader Thomas Dorsey created Ebenezer’s first gospel choir in the early 1930s, launching a concept that was adopted by Black churches across the globe. Dorsey helped other South Side churches with their own music programs.
“Dinah Washington was a choir member here before she became Dinah Washington, and Roberta Martin got her start right here. When Dorsey left, she took it over and kept it going, along with other musicians that came in,” Stovall said.
The Glessner House was built in 1887.
What manufacturing magnate John J. Glessner imagined as a cozy, inviting home was seen as an eyesore to neighbors underwhelmed by its curb appeal. Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style — a mixture of 11th and 12th century French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque characteristics — the home was distinctive for its time. Architect H. H. Richardson took a minimalist approach to design and installed an interior courtyard.
The national landmark changed hands several times before being saved by a group of architects and preservationists in the mid-’60s. Public tours began in 1971, the house kept afloat through philanthropic efforts from individual donations and foundational support. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The city grant would help leaders complete roof work for the 134-year-old structure. With fundraising covering two-thirds of the cost, the $100,000 grant will help Glessner House reach its $300,000 goal for repairs.
“In many ways, the efforts to save the home ushered in the modern preservation movement,” said William Tyre, executive director and curator of Glessner House. “Since that time, it’s been extensively restored to its original appearance. The Glessner family has returned virtually all of the original furnishings, many of which were custom made for the family and the house.”
An Open House Chicago favorite, the home drew 10,000 visitors a year before the pandemic.The Glessner House had to pivot during the eight-month shutdown last year, which increased its visibility and support. Keeping people engaged through a bimonthly e-newsletter and other online initiatives proved effective.
Now, the home is preparing for another influx of visitors this month as it is decked out for the holidays.
“This building was saved because it was architecturally important, but when people come and visit, what they really get is a wonderful story about an incredibly interesting family who documented their lives very, very well,” Tyre said. “Mrs. Glessner was a very talented craftswoman, and their daughter went on to become what was known as the ‘mother of forensic science.’ I think people are surprised when they come to look at the building and leave with this interesting story about some really interesting people who impacted Chicago.”
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