Time grows short for historic North Lawndale synagogue

January 9, 2012

A derelict former North Lawndale synagogue could get substantially closer to the wrecker's ball this week as Department of Buildings officials begin putting the edifices' demolition contract out to bid, according to a city spokesperson.

Building Department spokesperson Bill McCaffrey said the agency will bid out the contract to demolish the former temple at 3411 W. Douglas Blvd. within "the next couple of days." Due to the building's size--it is big enough to have once sat 3,500 worshippers--department officials will allow prospective bidders to tour the structure before drafting their bids, McCaffrey said.

The shuttered and deteriorating brick and limestone Byzantine Revival structure was once a center of a Jewish--and later, African American--life in the West Side community. Built in 1913 as Anshe Kenesseth Israel, the former temple was once among the largest synagogues in North Lawndale, a predominantly Jewish community in the early and mid-20th century. And for now, the building belongs to a distinctive, but shrinking collection of architecturally high-quality synagogues, schools and public buildings built during that era.

In the 1960s, the area became mostly African American and the synagogue became an early home for Friendship Baptist Church (which later moved to 5200 W. Jackson) and hosted the Rev. Martin Luther King. The building was Shepherd's Temple Baptist Church when it closed years ago. Abundant Life World Outreach, a North Side ministry, bought structure in 2007 but was unable to make a go of rehabbing and reusing the building. A city inspection last month led to an agreed order between the city and owners to demolish the structure.

The group Preservation Chicago placed the edifice on its 'Chicago Seven'-most endangered buildings list in 2011. This blog visited the vacant building in 2010 to discuss its architecture, history and condition. In addition to the above photo, here are two more from that visit.

And here is what the building looked like in its prime.

There is an online petition drive aimed at persuading Mayor Rahm Emanuel to stay the building's demolition. And there has been discussion in preservation circles about parties interested in stepping up to save the building. McCaffrey, the building department spokesperson, said anyone looking to rescue the building would have to demonstrate to the city their financial ability to do so.