Fire damages a religious--and architectural--landmark in North Lawndale

May 31, 2011

The New Life Temple Church of God in Christ still stands today on the corner of 15th and Drake, three days after an accidental extra-alarm fire caused by an overloaded electrical cord endangered the 87-year-old edifice.

Here's hoping the congregation and City of Refuge Outreach Ministries (the two entities share the building) are able to save the structure and rebuild. The last thing North Lawndale needs is an empty, fire-ravaged structure, especially one as visually-striking as this one--and with an architectural pedigree to boot.

Here's what the building looked like originally.

Dedicated in 1924, the building was originally Beth Jacob Anshe Kroz, one of many synagogues during the pre World War II years when North Lawndale was a predominantly-Jewish community. Designed by architect Maurice L. Bein, the upswept building is a response to having to build the relatively large structure on what was originally a long but very narrow site in a residential side street.  Bein put entrances and a wall of windows on the sunlit southern side of the building along 15th Street. The Drake elevation got no door, but set of brick piers leading to an arched window with a Star of David. Although the Jewish congregation moved on in the 1950s and the building remained a house of worship and a good neighbor, design-wise.

Some of the major buildings from Lawndale's time as a Jewish enclave are facing tough times. Last year in this spot, I discussed Anshe Kenesseth Israel crumbling on nearby Douglas Boulevard. And the original Hebrew Theological College at 3448 W. Douglas, which stood vacant for years under Chicago Public Schools ownership, was demolished late last year. All of this makes Saturday's fire at New Life Temple all the more unfortunate.

I visited the church Sunday with my camera. This photograph--a shot looking through the upper south windows of the church and out the north--shows the fire's damage:

This photo also shows a bit of the damage, but also the church's beautiful details:

Here the church stands

Frederick Nachman is a Chicago communications consultant who has traveled the city photographing former synagogues. He photographed New Life Temple in April 2009. "Structures like this aren't built anymore," he said. "We also should feel for the worshippers of New Life Temple, who have suffered a terrible loss."

“We’ll discuss where we go from here,” New Life church leader Elondia Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times after the fire. "It was a beautiful edifice.”