A show of faith: Volunteers clean up the grounds of imperiled former North Lawndale synagogue

March 12, 2012

Listen to Lee Bey on Afternoon Shift

Armed with shovels, brooms and trash bags, a group of volunteers Sunday spruced-up the trash-strewn surrounds of a former North Lawndale synagogue that the city has targeted for demolition.

The clean-up crew included community residents, preservationists and Steve Bartlett (in the photo above), who, with his wife Tracey, operate a Christian ministry that bought vacant temple in 2007, but were unable to raise the money to repair and occupy into the deteriorating 99-year-old building. The city won an emergency court order last December to demolish the structure, but since then, preservationists and historians--noting the former Anshe Kenesseth Israel temple's history and architecture--intervened and have bought the structure more time.

Attorneys for the building at 3411 W. Douglas Blvd., were set to go voluntarily go back to court today, hoping the cleanup would show the judge and the city the former temple is being placed on the first steps toward recovery. Instead, the attorneys, preservationists, community leaders and the city met out of court for six hours to further discuss plans to secure and repair the crumbling building. Supporters of the building also discussed raising "a few thousand" dollars to complete a structural report on the building, said the Bartletts' attorney, Graham C. Grady---and it is needed. There are gaping holes in the building's roof and a portion of the structure has crumbled away, revealing the zig-zag of big metal truss on the east side along structure's roof line.

With the emergency court order, the city can move to wreck the building at any time. Grady, a partner at lawfirm K&L Gates, said the group "is hopeful the city won't demolish" the structure while discussions are taking place.

“While no one wants to see this building demolished, the City’s concern first and foremost is public safety," said city department of buildings spokesperson Caroline Weisser. "This building has been in court since January 2010 and has deteriorated to such a point that it is a danger to the surrounding community.”

The building's supporters have discussed the possibility of a multipurpose reuse that could incorporate the Bartlett's ministry, but also community uses, spaces devote to North Lawndale's era as a Jewish bastion, or even a center there dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King, who spoke on the steps of the church in the 1960s when the building was home to Friendship Baptist Church. The temple was Shepherd's Temple Baptist Church when it closed a decade ago.