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CITY HALL — A former synagogue made famous as one of the places the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in Chicago was endorsed as a city landmark Thursday.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks signed off on the preliminary demarcation of Stone Temple Baptist Church Thursday without opposition.
The building was originally designed by Joseph Cohen as a synagogue for the Romanian Jewish community in the mid-’20s, according to Matt Crawford of the Department of Planning and Development. With the shifting racial makeup of the Lawndale neighborhood after World War II, it was sold to Rev. James Marcellus Stone in 1954, and he made it the home of Stone Temple Baptist Church.
King first preached there in 1959, Crawford testified, and the church became a focal point of the Chicago Freedom Movement in the mid-’60s, when King campaigned for fair housing in the city.
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Crawford called the building a monument to “the shared struggle of Jews and African-Americans for civil rights.”
Bishop Derrick Fitzpatrick, pastor of what’s now called Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, said the congregation had put almost $1 million into renovations over the last several years, and that the building was maintained for its historical importance “whether it be Jewish history or African-American history.”
Fitzpatrick welcomed the designation as a landmark, as did Ald. Michael Scott (24th), who also cheered Fitzpatrick and his wife, Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick, saying, “They are good shepherds to this building, but they are even better shepherds of our community.”
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, called it a “breathtaking structure” with a “remarkably beautiful sanctuary,” which retains much of the original Jewish iconography, including Torah art, although much of the original stained glass has been replaced by clear windows.
Crawford testified that it met several criteria for preservation and landmark status, including its place in the city’s history with King and as “exemplary architecture” by Cohen. It was granted preliminary landmark status without opposition and now begins the process toward final designation as a landmark by the commission.
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