Members of St. Sylvester Parish descended upon Alderman Colon’s office last night to protest what they see as a double standard by the alderman who has blocked their efforts to demolish the rectory adjacent to the church, which is protected by historic landmark zoning. Protesters carried signs that conveyed a message that the alderman is hampering their desire to remove the old rectory and replace it with a prayer garden. Others were shouting chants that the constitution is on their side, that the issue is more about the guarantee of religious freedom and that Alderman Colon is denying them of their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
However, members of Logan Square Preservation also attended, holding signs that stated “Save all of St. Sylvester”. Logan Square Preservation seeks to ensure that the rectory is not demolished. The group doesn’t necessarily view the issue as one of religious freedom, as much as simply protecting historic landmarks in the Logan Square and Palmer Square area.
To lift the description of the issue verbatim from materials handed out by folks from St. Sylvester, here’s how the parish views the issue:
The issue is religious freedom: the city argued that houses of worship are exempt from the landmark law because of [the] right to freedom of religion; However, other buildings owned by religious groups are not. The problem is that this narrowly defines religion as only those private ceremonies that take place inside a building dedicated primarily for such ceremonies. Not only was the old rectory used for religious ceremonies (such as confession, prayer groups and the liturgy of the hours) and all the preparation for religious ceremonies, but religion is more than just private ceremonies or worship.
St. Sylvester cannot repair both the historic church and the old rectory. In early summer of 2011 preparations were made to raise money to fix the historic church (which needs about $1 million in repairs - we have quotes for this). But the old rectory is in very bad shape, needing a $1.6 million rehab (we have a quote for this too). The parish was unable to raise money to fix both and wants to spend the money to fix the church. (The capital campaign pledges in 2012 were ~$770,000.)
The parish leadership sought the alderman’s help beginning in the summer of 2011 to remove the old rectory from the landmark district so it can be demolished and replaced with a landscaped prayer garden. He has refused to do so.
The solution he offered, in an April 4, 2012 email to Rev. Stein, was: “I have approached a local investor who would be willing to purchase and restore the building for rental housing.”
In summary: from the conversation with other politicians who know how the city works, we know that Alderman Colon, who sponsored the ordinance in the city council, could have simply left the old rectory out of the ordinance, as he did his own home. Its inclusion is, in the opinion of the outside legal counsel of the Archdiocese, a violation of our religious freedom. We are simply asking Alderman Colon to correct this by sponsoring a variance ordinance taking us out of the landmark district (which other politicians have told us can be done).
Logan Square Preservation also had materials to hand out, which described a brief summary of the history of the building, its architects and significance to the neighborhood.
The purpose of Chicago Landmark designation is to preserve, protect, and enhance the historic character of a landmark district.
The commission on Chicago Landmarks reviews building permit applications for buildings within a landmark district. Chicago Landmark designation is expressly set up to prevent the demolition of a contributing building.
The Logan Square Boulevards District encompasses the largest, best-preserved streetscapes of any Chicago boulevard. Logan, Kedzie, Palmer and Humboldt Boulevards are lined with handsome single-family residences, 2 & 3-flats, small apartment buildings, religious, institutional and commercial buildings that, take together, exemplify the visual character and quality of later-nineteenth and early-twentieth century architecture in Chicago. The St. Sylvester Rectory predates the neighborhood, is a contributing building and an important part of the Logan Square Boulevards District. The demolition of the rectory would diminish the value of the landmark district and an important tangible reference to St. Sylvester’s history.