PILSEN — A closed Catholic church that’s been at the center of a years-long preservation battle is one step closer to becoming a Chicago landmark.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously Thursday to advance landmark status for the St. Adalbert Catholic Church complex, 1650 W. 17th St., one month after the body gave it a preliminary landmark recommendation.
The commission approved a report from the Department of Planning and Development that landmark status would be consistent with city planning goals in the surrounding neighborhood.
The property — consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and a parking lot — spans 2.1 acres in the heart of Pilsen.
The designation must still work through a lengthy process and ultimately be approved by the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards followed by the full City Council.
Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he expects the landmark designation to be approved by the full City Council. He called Thursday’s vote a “special day” for St. Adalbert parishioners and the surrounding community.
“This is an iconic landmark for the Polish community, just as it is so important for the Mexican community, just as it is important for working people that today have said it loud and clear, they want to be part of a conversation of the planning of the next steps, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
St. Adalbert’s closed in 2019 as part of a consolidation of Catholic churches in Pilsen, sparking intense backlash from some neighbors and longtime parishioners who have since held protests and prayer services outside of the building.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has attempted to sell the property numerous times in recent years, but all of those deals have fallen through. Last month, the Sun-Times reported developer Anew Holding LLC was under contract to turn the church into an events space.
Typically, consent from the building owner is required to landmark active religious houses of worship. However, consent is only advisory for buildings no longer in use for religious services, according to the city’s planning department. St. Adalbert was deconsecrated in 2019.
If the property switches hands, consent from the owner would still be advisory, city officials said.
An Archdiocese spokesperson declined to comment on the commission’s vote.
To be eligible for landmark status, a Chicago building must meet at least two of seven criteria required by the landmark commission. The St. Adalbert’s complex meets four of those criteria, according to a planning department presentation. It also meets the “integrity criterion.”
Landmark status for St. Adalbert’s has been a major goal during the years of advocacy from parishioners and Pilsen neighbors, dozens of whom showed up at Thursday’s meeting to speak in favor of preserving the church. Ultimately, many say they hope to one day return to the church for mass and other religious services.
“I am begging you all to protect St. Adalbert Church as a church. Make it a landmark inside and outside, and save it for posterity, from oblivion,” one parishioner said during public comment.
“It is so widely important to our neighborhood that this property, this edifice, stays in perpetuity so that other people can also avail themselves of the interior and the exterior for inspiration, spiritual or religious, for whatever they can take away from this church and the property,” added Blanca Torres, a parishioner and part of the St. Adalbert Preservation Society.
St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants. The current church building dates to 1912. In recent decades, it became a religious and community center for Pilsen’s large Mexican-American community.
The archdiocese announced in February 2016 that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million needed to repair the church’s 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.
As a freshman alderman, Sigcho-Lopez called on the Department of Planning and Development to immediately begin the landmarking procedure. City planning officials said in late 2020 they would pursue preliminary landmark recommendation, but a hearing on the matter did not materialize.
The church was left out of an unpopular Pilsen landmark district proposal that was ultimately scuttled.
Last year, Sigcho-Lopez attempted to downzone the St. Adalbert’s property to force any potential developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and former parishioners.
The alderman’s ordinance passed the zoning committee in May 2022, despite a representative from the archdiocese saying at the time it would likely sue the city if the ordinance passed. It was set to go before the next City Council meeting, but allies of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot blocked the vote.
Previous attempts to sell the building also have fallen through.
The archdiocese tried to sell the church building in November 2016, when it contracted with the Chicago Academy of Music. In September 2018, the archdiocese hired commercial real estate firm SVN Chicago to try to sell the property again.
City Pads, a developer who sparked ire among residents after “whitewashing” a mural at the Casa Aztlan community center, was under contract to buy the church complex for $4 million in September 2019 — months after the church was deconsecrated. But the deal later fell through.
Block Club’s Madison Savedra contributed to this report.
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