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North Lawndale’s The Pentecostal Church of Holiness has become a Chicago landmark. On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Chicago’s City Council approved the designation, keeping the 90-year-old building from demolition. Pastor Chaun Johnson began his campaign to have the church deemed a landmark in 2019.
We want to ensure that those who hear about North Lawndale will know that there is a lily in the valley. There is beauty in what seems to be degradation.
The church, located on Chicago’s West Side, sits on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Keeler Avenue — 4208 West 15th Street. It was founded as a Catholic parish, served mostly Czech people who had come to North Lawndale from the Pilsen neighborhood. The church was originally a wooden structure, named “Our Lady of Lourdes, but was rebuilt in Romanesque Revival style in 1932 and was instrumental in supporting social justice in the community.
In the same year that the church was renovated, North Lawndale began attracting Irish and Polish families. African American families began moving to the area during the mid-1950s, seeking better jobs and housing, even though racist housing policy and disinvestment made it one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. It has remained a central part of K-Town even as the area transformed into a Black community.
During the 1960s, under the leadership of Reverend Michael Dempsey, Our Lady of Lourdes began supporting programs that addressed poor housing conditions and job improvement. Dempsey was determined to assist
the poor and underprivileged of North Lawndale and those in need everywhere. He started a program called “Lawndale for Better Jobs.”
Dempsey’s presence and position reflected the significance of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. Vice President Hubert Humphrey recognized his dedication in 1967, which led to Dempsey’s ordination as Bishop the following year.
Between 1970 and 2000, the neighborhood, as well as the church’s membership, declined. Monthly attendance dropped to less than 100 members, which led the Archdiocese to close the church in 2005, along with a few other churches in the area with low memberships.
By 2005, monthly attendance at Our Lady of Lourdes parish had dropped to fewer than 100, which resulted in the Archdiocese’s decision to close the church along with several other area churches with declining memberships.
The church was purchased in 2016 by the Pentecostal Church of Holiness, designed by architect Louis Guenzel, a Chicago architect. It exemplifies the neighborhood-scaled ecclesiastical architecture executed in the Romanesque Revival and Art Deco styles. It boasts of a high degree of details, the Pentecostal Church of craftsmanship in traditional masonry construction.
It has continued its work of maximizing the quality of life in North Lawndale with programs that help feed, clothe, educate, and provide jobs and health services to area residents. The church is presently working on providing vaccinations and creating a community garden.
Johnson says he wants to preserve the history and show that they are “invested” in the neighborhood.
To be considered a “Landmark,” the church needed to adhere to certain criteria:
- Its value as an example of a city, state, or national heritage.
- Identification with a notable person who contributed significantly to some aspect of the city, state’s, or United States’ development.
- Exemplary architecture is distinguished by innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials, or craftsmanship.
The landmark status recognizes the important contributions of Bishop Michael R. Dempsey and the legacy of social service upheld at the Pentecostal Church of Holiness.
Written by Brenda Robinson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
BLOCK CLUB Chicago: West Side’s Pentecostal Church Of Holiness Is Now A Chicago Landmark; by Pascal Sabino
Historic Preservation Publications: Pentecostal Church of Holiness Preliminary Summary of Information
Featured Image Courtesy of Haydn Blackey’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License