Bulldozers recently claimed the historic Anshe Kenesseth Israel Temple on Douglas Boulevard. As I followed the story on Lee Bey’s blog, I was reminded of another lost house of worship on one of our boulevards — St. Basil’s Catholic Church.
The parish was founded in 1904 to serve Irish and German Catholics in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. Masses were celebrated first in an abandoned blacksmith shop, and later in a combination church-school building. The permanent church was not completed until 1926.
It was worth the wait. The parish’s patron saint had been a bishop in Asia Minor. The new St. Basil’s at 1840 West Garfield Boulevard was built in the Byzantine style, along the lines of the famous Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
St. Basil’s Church was not very large, with seating for about 1,200 people. What made it impressive was the décor. Granite columns rose from granite steps on the portico, and the interior contained frescoes and mosaics in bright colors. Topping it off, 100 feet up from the floor, was a 61-foot-wide dome.
As time passed, the original families moved out of the parish, and were replaced by Poles and other Eastern Europeans. Later St. Basil’s added a significant Hispanic population.
During the 1980s the neighborhood around the church became predominantly African-American. The Catholic population shrank. St. Basil’s closed in 1990, and the parish was consolidated with Visitation parish. Shortly afterward, the Byzantine landmark on Garfield Boulevard was demolished.