Ornate Roman Catholic parish center faces demolition on Southwest Side

March 20, 2013

A vacant neo-Gothic gymnasium and community center--an unofficial landmark in the Brighton Park neighborhood for more than 80 years--might soon be demolished by the Chicago Roman Catholic archdiocese.
 
In late January, the archdiocese applied for a permit wreck the former St. Agnes Parish Center, 3916 S. Archer. But the application is under an automatic 90-day city review because the structure is listed in the Chicago Landmarks Historic Resources Survey as having "potentially significant architectural or historical features." (See the current demo hold list, including parish center here.)

An archdiocese spokesperson said the structure is under contract to be sold "and our buyer has plans for the site that do not include the building." The spokesperson wouldn't disclose the potential buyer.

The 82-year-old parish house would be the second prominent aging edifice under threat of demolition by the archdiocese in recent months. The crumbling 138-year-old St. James Church at 29th and Wabash could also fall to the bulldozers, as this blog first reported in last October.  According to a city spokesperson, the spaces behind parish house's exterior walls are saturated with rainwater because the building's drainage system either does not work or was removed. Portions of the front walls are so out-of-plumb, the parapet leans over the sidewalk, the city spokesperson also said.

Built in 1931 for $125,000, the parish center was designed to provide community spaces the neighborhood lacked, according to a Chicago Tribune story at the time. The hulking building originally featured a children's roller rink, three bowling alleys and a second floor assembly hall that doubled as a gymnasium. The center was designed by Boston architect Edward T.P. Graham whose work included more than two dozen noteworthy religious edifices in Boston and Cleveland. Graham also designed Chicago's St. Malachy Church at 2248 W. Washington.

Here's a detail from the entrance of the parish center: a relief of a leather-helmeted young man clutching a football.And another detail from the entrance--tennis, anyone?And here, a hint of Art Deco in the otherwise late neo-Gothic building.

St. Agnes Church, which sat just south of the parish center, closed in 1990 and was later demolished. In later years, the center was the Daniel Byrnes Social Center, named in honor of the pastor who built the structure. It was also bingo hall for Our Lady of Fatima Church.
 
The archdiocese spokesperson said it would be "quite expensive" to rehab the building. And given the structure;s condition, a demolition permit might well be granted, the city spokesperson said.