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Osterman Wants To Landmark Epworth Church After Developer Moves To Demo 130-Year-Old Building

A developer is seeking to demolish the Epworth Church that dates back to the early days of Edgewater, but preservationists hope to save it.

Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater will host its last church service May 15, 2022.
Courtesy Stephanie Barto
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EDGEWATER — Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he is looking to landmark Edgewater’s Epworth Church as the historical church campus faces potential demolition after being sold. 

A demolition permit is being sought for the 130-year-old Epworth United Methodist Church, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave. The permit was received by the city Friday, triggering a 90-day review to see if demolition of the historically protected Edgewater church is appropriate, city records show.

Epworth on Sunday held the final church services at its Edgewater campus that dates back to the 1890s. The congregation is now set to share space with with Unity Lutheran Church, 1212 W. Balmoral Ave.

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The church has to vacate its longtime home by Friday, Epworth Pastor Max Kuecker said. Its new owner is planning to turn the church campus into condos, he said.

“They’re going to do their best to salvage the building,” Kuecker said. “There’s a chance it’s not salvageable.”

Osterman however said he will look to protect the church and its community center from the wrecking ball by making the campus a city landmark. The alderman said he has asked the city to begin the landmarking process for Epworth and will tell the church’s buyer he wants to see the buildings saved.

The demolition request “flies in the face of what the community wants,” Osterman said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they’re not demolished.”

Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Barto
The interior of Epworth United Methodist Church, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave.

RELATED: 130-Year-Old Edgewater Church Hosting Final Services Sunday After Being Sold, Leaving Building’s Future Unclear

Epworth’s campus was put up for sale last year as the church and a community center have deteriorated in recent years, Kuecker said.

Built in 1891, the church is one of the first structure’s built in Edgewater. But it was built on a foundation of sand and its basement has shifted, Kuecker said. The congregation, dwindling in recent years, doesn’t have the money for upkeep, he said.

Last week, an estate sale was held at the church, where most of its wares were available to buy. The sale concerned neighbors and preservationists who fear for the church’s future.

“We’ve been concerned about Epworth Church for awhile,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. We’ve been encouraging preservation and a landmark designation. That’s how important it is.”

Osterman said he has not seen final plans for the proposed redevelopment of the campus.

The church’s sale has not been reflected in public property records. No building permits have yet been issued for the site.

The church is already zoned for residential use, property records show.

Epworth United Methodist Church was originally formed in 1888, back when Edgewater only had a few hundred residents.

The church building was completed in 1891, with noted architect Frederick B. Townsend donating his services, according to the Edgewater Historical Society. In the 1930s, the building was expanded and a community house added to accommodate a growing congregation. For decades, the church has also housed a homeless shelter from Uptown organization Cornerstone Community Outreach.

Osterman said he is working with Cornerstone to find a new location for the shelter.

The church has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and is given “orange-rated” status under the city’s historic survey. That is one level below a Chicago landmark.

Epworth’s orange-rated status means that any demolition permit for the building automatically triggers a 90-day review delay. The delay gives city officials time to see if saving the building is feasible or if landmark status is appropriate.

Preservationists have sought a city landmark designation for Epworth, but it has yet to be granted. They are continuing their push for the designation with the building now facing the wrecking ball.

“People in the community want to see this remarkable building preserved,” Miller said.

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