Century-old church in Pilsen to get hearing on landmark status: ‘A treasure for the community’

Preservationists say the designation would save St. Adalbert Church from being demolished by the Archdiocese of Chicago, which closed the church in 2019. The hearing is on Monday.

Scaffolding hangs around the closed St. Adalbert Catholic Church located at 1650 W. 17th St. in the Pilsen neighborhood, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023.

Scaffolding hangs around the shuttered St. Adalbert Catholic Church located at 1650 W. 17th St. in Pilsen. On Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks announced that it will hold a preliminary hearing to consider giving the church landmark status, a move that preservationists say will secure its future.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A century-old church in Pilsen, that’s been at the heart of a drawn-out fight between former parishioners and the Archdiocese of Chicago, will get a special hearing on Monday to determine if the city should save it.

The church — St. Adalbert — and its 185-foot towers have stood over the Lower West Side since its construction in the early 1900s, but its future has been uncertain since the last Mass was celebrated in 2019.

La Voz Sidebar

Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, la sección bilingüe del Sun-Times.
la-voz-cover-photo-2.png

On Thursday, the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks announced that it will consider a preliminary landmark recommendation for the church, a move that preservationists say will secure its future and comes as preservationists have condemned the archdiocese for removing the building’s original stained glass windows, which they view as a prelude to its wholesale demolition.

Preservationists, from former parishioners and architecture enthusiasts to Polish cultural historians, view the building as an icon of the Pilsen neighborhood and for the Polish community in Chicago.

Supporters of preservation held a news conference at City Hall on Thursday to protest the removal of the stained glass and in support of assigning landmark status to the building.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks at a news conference at City Hall decrying the Archdiocese of Chicago’s removal of stained glass from St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.  

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks at a news conference at City Hall to protest the Archdiocese of Chicago’s removal of stained glass from St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

“St. Adalbert is a stable and iconic site in the 25th Ward,” said local Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez.

The Lower West Side alderperson has long fought for the building’s preservation and convened the news conference. It is “treasure for our community,” he said.

According to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the site met several criteria outlined in the city’s Municipal Code for landmarking, including regarding “its unique location or distinctive physical appearance or presence representing an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community, or the City of Chicago.”

Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, and another longtime advocate also spoke. “If we want to be a first-class city, we have to honor and protect our buildings,” Miller said.

Miller had previously told the Sun-Times that the removal of a site’s valuable elements is how the archdiocese has signaled upcoming demolition in the past.

During the last fight at the Pilsen church, over the removal of a beloved statue, he told the Sun-Times, “Once the statue comes out, the wrecking ball comes in.”

In that fight, protesters camped outside the church ready to stop anyone from removing the statue — an exact marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta. It culminated in four protesters being detained by police for blocking its removal.

Judy Vazquez, a former parishioner of St. Adalbert Church, attempts to stop the removal of a beloved statue — a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta — from the historic church in Pilsen in November, 2022.

Judy Vazquez, a former parishioner of St. Adalbert Church, attempts to stop the removal of a beloved statue — a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta — from the historic church in Pilsen in November, 2022. Vazquez was detained by police for her actions.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Preservationists say the stained glass, which includes a rose window at the church entrance, windows throughout the nave and an intricate skylight above the altar, are among the last of the church’s valuable features yet to be removed.

The archdiocese said the local parish, St. Paul, decided “to remove and safeguard the stained glass after several break-ins and rounds of vandalism left some panes destroyed.”

St. Paul, the church in Pilsen that absorbed the congregation of St. Adalbert after it closed, is where the removed statue was brought, but a spokesperson for the archdiocese ignored a question about whether that’s where the glasswork would go, saying, “The parish owns the glass and the glass will be preserved.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Development, in answering questions about whether the archdiocese could legally remove the glass, said, “Certain work like the removal or board-up of windows does not require a permit.”

Anina Jakubowski was among the dozen people who attended the news conference. She’s a former parishioner but also spoke out about the building’s significance as cultural patrimony for the Polish community and blamed Cardinal Blase Cupich for shuttering the church.

“This was their little bit of Poland. They built it for future generations,” she said, referring to the early Polish immigrants who built the church. “They didn’t build it for him to 100 years later come around and sell it because they needed money.”

Details of the stained glass window above the altar at St. Adalbert Church taken in 2023 by researchers from Poland studying the cultural patrimony of Polish immigrants in the Midwest.

Details of the stained-glass window above the altar at St. Adalbert Church taken in 2023 by researchers from Poland studying the cultural patrimony of Polish immigrants in the Midwest. The Archdiocese of Chicago has recently begun removing the building’s glasswork.

From Polish Heritage 3D, a project to digitize Polish cultural artifacts in the U.S.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

The Latest
El deporte y el juego complementan el aprendizaje en los salones de clase. Las escuelas no deberían tener que recortarlos a causa del déficit de las Escuelas Públicas de Chicago.
The Democratic National Convention takes place on Aug. 19-22, but street closures and public transit detours begin days earlier as authorities prepare the security areas around them.
Preliminary information indicates a stray bullet shot from outside entered the home in the 1500 block of Cherokee Drive and struck the girl, according to the Lake County Major Crime Task Force.
The program won’t be available for the first day of school in August, CPS says, but some kids could catch buses at some point in the first quarter.
The Bears’ rookie quarterback had an uneven practice, his fourth of training camp, on Thursday. The Bears will hold their first padded practice Friday.