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South Side Ruins: Is the disassembly of shuttered church a good thing?

By JoshMogerman in Miscellaneous on Jun 26, 2011 7:30PM

Look north from within Sherman Park on the South Side and you are greeted with a jarring sight: ruins. Towers of stone rubble reach into the sky above the field house and trees, resembling something more like the outskirts of Angkor Wat than the neighborhood surrounding the park. Unlike those ancient places, nature isn’t causing the disintegration; it is the Archdiocese of Chicago!

St. John of God Church has been on 52nd Street, across from the park, for nearly a century. But that will come to an end soon. It is being taken apart, one piece at a time, so that its fa├žade and bell towers can be reassembled as part of a new church being built near the Wisconsin border. Today, the ruins of St. John are almost unrecognizable from the stately church that WBEZ blogger Lee Bey profiled in an impressive photo shoot last March.

The new church in Lake County will be a bit of a mutant hybrid; bringing together elements from St. John of God with those of another closed church from the North Side, the new congregation’s current house of worship -- a converted barn in Antioch -- and the massive organ salvaged from the old Medinah Temple. In another post about the St. John of God, which closed in 1997, Bey noted that this project represents a huge change in the way the Archdiocese deals with its shuttered churches, but came just short of endorsing it. We are all for recycling, but seeing this once-proud landmark slowly melting away and leaving another hole in the landscape of a struggling community, we have to wonder if this is something laudable or just strip-mining Chicago’s architectural heritage.