What’s that building? Abu Bakr Masjid
The Wrigleyville mosque started out 150 years ago as a Methodist church in downtown Chicago.By Dennis Rodkin
One of the most visually unremarkable buildings in Wrigleyville stands on the corner of Roscoe and Kenmore — but it shouldn’t be overlooked.
This building, now a mosque called Abu Bakr Masjid, has a remarkable history that goes back 150 years to the days immediately after the Great Chicago Fire. In the years since, the building has housed several Christian and, now, a Muslim congregation.
Since 1872, this building has stood on four different sites in the city and has housed six congregations, five of them Christian (two Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist and Pentecostal) and one Islamic.
The structure started out about five miles south of where it is today.
There are about 20 downtown Chicago buildings that remain from the frantic rebuilding effort immediately after the Great Chicago Fire, and we can add this Wrigleyville mosque to that list — with an asterisk because it has been displaced from downtown, where it was once a Methodist church.
The October 1871 fire destroyed 17,500 buildings, including the First Methodist Church at Washington and Clark streets. In the aftermath of the fire, the Methodists built a temporary chapel immediately outside the Burnt District. It was about seven blocks south of the church, at Clark and Harrison, and one story tall.
The first known mention of the temporary chapel is in church minutes from Feb. 23, 1872, five months after the fire, according to David Foster, a retired church pension board analyst who is now a volunteer historical researcher at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. At that meeting, the church trustees “audited some bills presented for the erecting of the chapel,” Foster said. So while we do not know exactly when the chapel was completed, we know it was by February 1872.
On April 18, 1873, with their permanent building nearing completion back at the Washington and Clark site, the trustees “empowered the treasurer to dispose of the temporary chapel by gist to the city missionary society or otherwise at his discretion,” Foster said.
The downtown Methodists gave the one-story wooden structure to another Methodist congregation, newly formed in Ravenswood, at that time a suburb north of the city.
The Ravenswood Methodists moved the building on rollers to two different locations on Sunnyside Avenue. When they were ready to build the permanent stone church that is still on the corner of Sunnyside and Hermitage avenues, they sold the wooden building to the Lake View Lutheran congregation. The Lutherans moved it again, this time about 2.5 miles southeast to Roscoe Street and Kenmore Avenue, where it has stood ever since.
But that’s not all the changes this building has been through. At some point, the church got a second floor, including a tower on the front, the west end, and an office and residential building on the east end.
The Lutherans kept the building for more than 70 years, until 1962, when they built the modern red brick church they are still using in Wrigleyville.
The building was then sold to the North Shore Baptist church, which hosted a fledgling Spanish-speaking congregation.
When the Baptists moved out in 1979, Pentecostal Missionary Church of Christ moved in, becoming the fourth Christian denomination to occupy the building.
Three years later, in December 1982, the building became a mosque, Abu Bakr Masjid, one of three locations under the umbrella of the North Side Mosque. The mosque did not discuss or grant WBEZ access to the building.
Foster, from the original Methodist congregation, said he thinks the church trustees who decided to give away their temporary chapel in 1873 would be pleased with where it has been since then. The congregation famously worshiped in a series of mixed-use buildings from 1857 through its present home, a 23-story tower with a bank branch and a rare coin dealer as ground-floor tenants. This was an intentional choice to help fund both operations of this church and seed money for other Methodist congregations in the city, Foster said.
The little wooden temporary chapel turned out to be an incubator for churches as well, “so it fits into that mission,” Foster said.
Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. Follow him @Dennis_Rodkin.
Vashon Jordan Jr. is the freelance photojournalist for Reset’s “What’s That Building?” Follow him @vashon_photo.