‘Vi­sion­ary’ be­hind ef­fort to trans­form Bronzevill­e land­mark says de­struc­tion ‘forces the ur­gency,’ while oth­ers worry that it could up­end the ven­ture

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF RE­PORTER cproc­tor@sun­ | @ce­proc­tor23

It didn’t take long for Cyn­thia Jones to find out how badly Pil­grim Bap­tist Church had been dam­aged when winds of nearly 100 mph tore through the city Mon­day af­ter­noon.

By 4:15 p.m., Jones, chair of the church’s board of trustees, had got­ten calls from plenty of neigh­bors.

“Any time you have any kind of dam­age, you’re con­cerned,” Jones said Tues­day. “I have faith in God it’s for a rea­son.”

Tues­day af­ter­noon, heaps of bricks rested in front of what used to be the south wall of the church, at 3301 S. In­di­ana Ave. in Dou­glas.

Now, only two walls re­main in­tact — the north and west walls, made of lime­stone and braced by metal beams.

The build­ing has been a shell since Jan­uary 2006, when it was gut­ted by fire.

Since 2017, the church has been fundrais­ing for a plan to build the Na­tional Mu­seum of Gospel Mu­sic. The project was to be com­pleted this fall but al­ready had been de­layed to 2022, Jones said.

In­stead of halt­ing plans for the mu­seum, Don Jack­son — founder and CEO of Chicago-based Cen­tral City Pro­duc­tions and the “vi­sion­ary” be­hind the mu­seum project — called the col­lapse a “god­send.”

“This forces the ur­gency,” Jack­son said. “This has been a bless­ing for the project that says that we need to get started,” adding that he still thinks the mu­seum can open in Septem­ber 2022.

The state has al­lo­cated $2.1 mil­lion to the mu­seum, but Jack­son said the church has yet to re­ceive the money. He ex­pects the state and city each will con­trib­ute about $10 mil­lion to­tal to the project, now es­ti­mated to cost $48 mil­lion, Jack­son said. Mon­day’s de­struc­tion could ex­pe­dite state and city ac­tion, he said.

Oth­ers worry the wall’s col­lapse could up­end the project.

Ward Miller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Preser­va­tion Chicago, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, said though he “loves the idea of a gospel mu­seum,” op­er­at­ing and main­tain­ing a mu­seum is ex­pen­sive. Still, he would wel­come “any­thing” to pre­serve the space, such as an open-air con­cert venue, a com­mu­nity cen­ter or a field­house.

“It’s still an im­por­tant com­po­nent to save,” Miller said. “It has a lot of sig­nif­i­cance to the na­tion and to the world, cul­tur­ally in mu­sic and, of course, ar­chi­tec­turally.”

Built in 1890 and de­signed by fa­mous ar­chi­tects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the build­ing orig­i­nally op­er­ated as a sy­n­a­gogue be­fore the church pur­chased the prop­erty in 1922. Thomas A. Dorsey, con­sid­ered the “fa­ther of gospel mu­sic” was a choir di­rec­tor at the church, which many con­sider to be the mu­sic style’s birth­place.

Since the fire, the church con­gre­ga­tion, com­mu­nity groups and gospel per­form­ers have pro­posed myr­iad plans to pre­serve the build­ing’s his­tory, even­tu­ally land­ing on the Na­tional Mu­seum of Gospel Mu­sic in 2017.

Jones, who’s in her 70s, said she’s at­tended the church since she was bap­tized there at age 7. The church now meets across the street at 3300 S. In­di­ana Ave. Mon­day’s de­struc­tion is a “hic­cup” com­pared to the “day and night of dev­as­ta­tion” of the 2006 fire.

Jones is “con­fi­dent” there will be a mu­seum, she said — it’s only a mat­ter of time. She an­tic­i­pates Mon­day’s dam­age could de­lay the project a year.

“We’re very pos­i­tive that’s go­ing to come to fruition,” she said. “It should be here. Where else would it be be­sides Chicago?”



The south wall of Pil­grim Bap­tist Church in Bronzevill­e col­lapsed in Mon­day’s storms. Al­ready gut­ted by a 2006 fire, the his­toric site is the planned lo­ca­tion for a Na­tional Mu­seum of Gospel Mu­sic.

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