GRAND BOULEVARD — Bronzeville’s historic Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church is on the market, and a group of preservationists and parishioners are ramping up efforts to save it from potential demolition.
Tabernacle Missionary Baptist, 4130 S. Indiana Ave., was listed for sale last week for $799,000. The listing advertises the 26,000-square-foot space as “a new church home to restore and continue the legacy of TMBC” or “a unique development opportunity in a growing part of the city.” The sale would also include a vacant lot next door.
The building being put up for sale intensifies a recent effort from preservationists and church leaders trying to landmark the church or even gain control of the building.
Leaders from Preservation Chicago and church members appeared before the landmarks commission at City Hall Tuesday morning to submit the building for landmark consideration.
Preservation Chicago and Coalition of Black House Museums are working with the group to gather documents they hope will make their case for landmark status and plan to launch a petition drive in the coming days, organizers said.
Church members and preservationists have been trying to disentangle years of litigation to figure out what was happening with the building since it was boarded up earlier this year and in-person worship services were stopped.
Organizers told Block Club in August the church had been at the center of an ownership dispute between church loan specialist Eagle Ledge Foundations and Chicago Title Land Trust.
The church was foreclosed on in 2017, said Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago.
Eagle Ledge sued Chicago Title Land Trust and Tabernacle Missionary Baptist in 2019, claiming the trust company defaulted on the $300,000 loan it received nearly a decade ago, making Eagle Ledge the rightful owner.
Eagle Ledge won that suit, Seidel said. The company took control of the church in a Cook County sheriff’s sale last year, Crain’s reported.
Eagle Ledge filed for bankruptcy in 2022.
Now, church members are suing Chicago Title Land Trust, alleging the defaulted loan was fraudulently issued, Seidel said. That lawsuit is pending.
Also in dispute is a parcel of vacant land to the south of the church, which was included in the loan documents but omitted from the sheriff’s deed of foreclosure sale, Seidel said. All three parcels of land are included in the real estate listing.
The group hopes to have documents ready for the attorney helping them with the case by Friday, Seidel said.
Emiko Pope — the realtor handling the listing — said Eagle Ledge is the rightful owner and that’s who she is representing in the sale.
Pope said she’d love to see the building be put to use for community purposes given its history, but the future of the church will ultimately be decided by the buyer.
“I wish the push for landmarking would’ve happened earlier,” Pope said.
Parts of the church were built in the late 19th century, with the newer building erected in 1946. Church founder Reverend Dr. Louis Rawls tapped Homer G. Sailor — an architect who once worked at Louis Sullivan’s firm — to lead the construction. It is one of six true tabernacles in the world, the building’s design meant to resemble the description illustrated in the Book of Exodus, parishioners said.
But in recent years the church has seen a revolving door of lead pastors and dwindling membership as it continued to fall into disrepair. Work is needed on the roof and sanctuary, which has flooded in recent years. A 2021 appraisal of the building estimates its worth at $1 million, church members previously said.
Given the age of the newer building, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist isn’t included in the color-coded houses of worship catalogued in the Chicago Historic Resources survey, putting the building at risk for demolition if a potential new owner sees fit, Miller said.
The group hopes Tabernacle Missionary Baptist’s long and storied history in Bronzeville will also convince the city to intervene.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there on several occasions at the invitation of Rawls, known for his decades of philanthropy and civil service. The adopted father of singer Lou Rawls, the church leader was also known for his deep friendship with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.
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