A sacred ruin: Inside a vacant, but architecturally-significant Hyde Park church

April 12, 2010


A bare auditorium, with dome, arched
windows and altar (photo by Lee Bey)

Hyde Park's vacant former St. Stephen's Church--an edifice that has been the subject of a decade's worth of failed redevelopment plans--is now for sale. Asking price:$1.7 million.

Built in 1915 as the Tenth Church of Christ, Scientist, the building's limestone facade with curved walls that open like a pair of welcoming arms still conveys a certain pride and strength. But a decade of disuse has turned the interior into a heartbreakingly beautiful ruin; its majestic spaces sit beneath a veil of failing plaster, graffiti, broken glass and decay. How did it get this way? University of Chicago Maroon reporter Asher Klein nicely chronicled the church's recent history in this 2009 piece.


One of two rotting staircases that lead to the
second floor auditorium (photo by Lee Bey)

The building, 5640 S. Blackstone, was designed by Coolidge and Hodgdon, a successor firm to the Chicago office of Boston architects Shepley Rutan & Coolidge. Shepley Rutan were architects of note in turn-of-the-20th-century Chicago, having designed the Chicago Cultural Center, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Harris Bank, and several buildings on the University of Chicago campus. After becoming Coolidge and Hodgdon in 1915, Tenth Church was among their first commissions.

The church's design is typical of early Christian Scientist houses of worship, taking historicist design cues from The First Church of Christ, Scientist, the "Mother Church",‚  in Boston. But the Chicago 1893 Exposition also inspired Christian Scientist church design. *The religion's founder, Mary Baker Eddy attended the Chicago world's fair and was gripped by its neo-classical architecture, particularly architect Solon S. Beman's Merchant Tailors and Trade building. Eddy hired Beman to design a dozen Christian Science churches around the country, beginning with Chicago's First Church of Christ, Science (which has been Grant Memorial AME Church since the early 1950s) at 4017 S. Drexel.‚  Beman also designed the town (now Chicago neighborhood) of Pullman and the Fine Arts Building downtown.


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Cynthia Rogan who is handling the sale of‚  the property was kind enough to let me inside the shuttered building to take these photos.‚  The old church remains rezoned for residential redevelopment and it is unclear if a new buyer would raze or reuse the building. A previous developer sought to keep the facade and demolish the rest of the building for residences. There are cleverly done residential adaptive reuse of Christian Science temples around town, though. For instance, the 13th Church of Christ, Scientist at 103rd and Longwood was turned into a 16 unit condominium building in 1992, and its former Christian Science reading room was converted into a Starbucks a few years ago.

What would you do?

*Regarding Eddy, Beman and the World's Fair connection, read the comments below where my expert readers--thankfully--weigh in and clarify the record.