I took a drive by the shuttered and decaying former Shepherd's Temple church in North Lawndale yesterday. Once among the city's premiere synagogues, the 99-year-old church could be razed this month--maybe even this week--despite a grassroots effort from residents and architecture historians to stave off demolition.
Listen to Lee Bey discuss this post on Afternoon Shift
Built in 1913 as Anshe Kenesseth Israel, 3411 W. Douglas Blvd, the building is in such ragged condition, the city won an emergency court order in December to demolish the structure. City officials have been engaging in behind-the-scenes dialog with preservationists, hoping a benefactor could step up and take over the building, however. The building's plight and history were covered by this blog in 2010 and earlier this year.
The best quote summing up the issue can be found in a great piece on Shepherd's Temple in last month's Tablet, an online Jewish magazine. In the article, architect Carey Wintergreen, who is among those fighting to save the North Lawndale building, asks a city lawyer what would it take to keep the building from being demolished.
“Cash,” the city attorney said. That's the name of the game, of course. As always. But that's only part of the story.
The easy narrative is that Shepherd's Temple is located in a neighborhood too poor to support it. And the story holds up, too--until you see the other former synagogues along North Lawndale's Douglas and Independence Boulevards that are open for business as churches during the decades Shepherd's Temple fell into ruin. There is something else going on here also. African American congregations are increasingly building larger churches and moving away from older, often second-hand, houses of worship. The new buildings can accommodate larger crowds, more charismatic services and a myriad of ministries--while offering plenty of parking.
Without some kind of intervention, more old churches like Shepherd's Temple could be at risk in the decades to come.