Group hoping for a new Epiphany
Preservationists eye reopening Jackson Historic District landmark
10/10/2012 10:00 PM
The Church of the Epiphany, a West Loop landmark in the Jackson Boulevard Historic District, has empty since it was shuttered a year ago. But now a group of neighborhood activists and historic preservationists are lobbying the Episcopal Church to reopen it — maybe with a new mission.
The group, led by Preservation Chicago President Ward Miller, is pushing the Episcopal Diocese to sell or repurpose the 130-year-old building, which closed its doors when its congregation dwindled to fewer than 10 parishioners in 2011.
Miller said that before the church shuttered, he’d show up periodically for services at the building on major holidays. He also worked with recently-passed preservation lion Bill Lavicka, who lived around the corner, on an extensive rehab of the building.
“We’re dedicated to reopening the Church of the Epiphany on the West Side, a part of the city that really could use a lot of resources,” Miller said. “We think it’s really just an ideal location for all kinds of purposes that the church has served in the past. We want to reopen the church with much bigger ideas and vision that just haven’t been there for a long time.”
When the church was shuttered last year, the Episcopal Diocese said that the congregation had just grown too small to be sustainable, and the large Epiphany complex had grown difficult to efficiently heat and secure. Closing the church down just made financial sense, they said at the time.
Miller understands that, but thinks a new organization could have better luck with the building.
“Clearly, the Diocese of Chicago is concerned about the costs associated with the building, and I think they’re redefining and refocusing their scope and their vision,” he said. “Of course, finances are tight, and they have to look for new solutions.”
But Rebecca Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Diocese, said the building isn’t up for sale.
“It’s not on the market,” she said. “We’re still determining what’s best for the neighborhood, the community and the church.”
They don’t have a timeline for making a decision yet either, Wilson said, though they’ve had an appraisal done on the building. The Bishop and Trustees, the group within the diocese that manages its real estate, is still trying to figure out what the best use of Epiphany would be.
“One of the things they’re most concerned about is how best to be able to continue the mission of the Episcopal ministry in the community,” she said. “We understand that there’s certainly a group that is interested, but they don’t have a formal relationship with us.”
One possible use of the building that Miller floated is as a school. Particularly, Tri-Taylor’s Chicago Hope Academy High School is interested in using the building as an elementary school feeder.
Bob Muzikowski, president and founder of Chicago Hope Academy, said they’re definitely interested in the idea, and have been talking to Miller about the possibility — though not with the Episcopal Diocese.
“We love old buildings … I think it would fit as a church and a school,” Muzikowski said. “We would put it to great use. It always pains me to see a great old building shut, and this one is in my neighborhood.”
They’ve got a good amount of cash on hand that they could put into the project, too, he said. However, he added that they’re nowhere close to even starting talks to acquire the building.
“We’re a high school and we’d love to have a grade school,” he said. “We’re pretty good at running programs and having people make good use of space. But obviously we’re a ways away from that.”