Church named for patron saint of students teaches bitter preservation lesson

June 6, 2012

 
The vacant St. Laurence Church – a fine ensemble of early 20th century Chicago ecclesiastical architecture – shamefully withers on the corner of 72nd and Dorchester.
 
The century-old church, its accompanying rectory, school and lively Renaissance Revival-style parish house have been closed since 2002. Eden Independent Living bought the site in hopes of building a supportive living facility where the former St. Laurence school stands. Under the plan, the remaining buildings were targeted for reuse. But the effort met community opposition and stalled.
 
That was seven years ago.
 
Since then, St. Laurence's handsome rectory caught fire, leaving a partially charred shell. The church's basement pipes burst, causing water damage. And a few broken windows on architect John Molitor's beauty allow glimpses of the inside the church where–as the photo below shows – weathering is endangering plaster work and murals:

Here is the fire-damaged rectory:

Look at this nicely-done arcade that links the church to the parish house. The arches, the shadows, the proportion: it's an architectural feature – among many here – worth saving:
And then parish house itself. Very fine. The church was constructed in 1911, but this building didn't come along until 1936. Designed by architect George S. Smith, whose work includes the St. Bonaventure Church rectory at Diversey and Marshfield, the St. Laurence building was worth the wait:
St. Laurence was once a big deal. When Chicago Roman Catholic Archbishop James Quigley laid the St. Laurence's cornerstone, 5,000 people showed up to watch.
 
What will happen to St. Laurence? There are far fewer eyes on the church now than in that day in 1910. But the edifice finds itself in a moment no less important.