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Edgewater’s Epworth Church Gets Preliminary Landmark Status As Developer Seeks To Turn Church Into Apartments

With landmark status, the 131-year-old church building would be saved as it is set to be sold to a developer and converted into a residential use.

Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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EDGEWATER — Epworth Church is one step closer to becoming a city landmark just as the historical church is set to be redeveloped — possibly into apartments.

The city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted Thursday to give Epworth Church preliminary landmark status, which would give the church campus demolition protections after an earlier effort to raze its buildings.

The 131-year-old Epworth Church at 5253 N. Kenmore Ave. held its last church services in early May before a prospective new owner applied for a demolition permit for the church campus’ two buildings.

The developer pulled the demolition request after blowback from neighbors and a pledge from Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) to seek landmark protections for the church.

After the Thursday vote, Epworth Church is likely to become a city landmark and its future becomes a little more clear.

Credit: Courtesy Stephanie Barto
Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater will host its last church service May 15, 2022.

After years of declining membership, ownership of Epworth Church was recently transferred from the congregation to a group named Church Properties Reimagined, a religious nonprofit that helps churches manage their assets, including real estate.

The congregation asked Church Properties Reimagined to sell the church campus, pastor Mike Jones, executive director of the group, said at Thursday’s Landmark Commission meeting.

The group has come to an agreement with a developer who is interested in turning the property into residences, Jones said. A development plan is being put together for the consideration of Osterman and city officials.

“Our desire is to preserve the exterior of the building for the community,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to come to a solution that preserves the outside of the building … while being able to make it economically feasible for a developer to do that. Our hope is those details get worked out.”

An estate sale has been held at the church, with much of its interior being sold and removed. A historical and rare organ is being donated to an East Coast church that is paying thousands to relocate it, Jones said.

It will take more than $2 million to fix structural issues with the church before it can be converted into another use, Jones said.

Osterman said any development plan that comes forward will be done in conformity with the city’s landmark protections. He said he will work to include community accessible space in the redevelopment plans.

The alderman said he is also working to find a new space in the ward for the homeless shelter that runs out of the church’s basement.

“Epworth has been an anchor in our community,” Osterman said at the meeting. “It’s very important we keep the building preserved.”

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 United Methodist Church formed in 1888, 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.

The church has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and was given “orange-rated” status under the city’s historic survey. That status prompted a 90-day delay and review of the demolition permit, though it was ultimately withdrawn before the timeline was up.

Neighbors and preservationists have sought to landmark the building as its future became uncertain.

Edgewater residents and preservationists Carla Bruni helped the church earn its federal historic status. The church campus, set back from the street with its ornate limestone facade, provides greenery and human scale in a dense part of Edgewater neighbored by high rises on nearby Sheridan Road.

“It’s this oasis,” Bruni said at the meeting. “Epworth is this really striking pause. … This cannot ever be replicated.”

Epworth is worthy of landmark status because of its exemplary architect, the noteriety of its architects and its historical significance as an example of Edgewater’s earliest days, according to the city’s landmark report.

The landmark designation still needs to be approved by the City Council’s committee on landmarks and by the full City Council.

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