Although Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church’s landmark status was approved on June 22, 2016 by Chicago’s City Council, it was this past weekend’s ceremony that sealed the initial idea that was birthed at a chance meeting in 2014.
The Road to Landmark Status
At a breakfast in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King in January 2014, explains Ward Miller, executive director for Preservation Chicago: “I had the honor of meeting Bishop Fitzpatrick and his wife, Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick. I had attended events at Stone Temple in the past and was aware of its amazing history, but on that morning, I asked if they would consider a Chicago landmark designation of the church building.”
A former synagogue, the church was built in 1926 for Jews fleeing persecution and anti-Semitism in Romania that flourished during the careers of A. C. Cuza and Corneliu Zelea Codreanu – both considered Romanian political extremist, according to author Jean Ancel.
In 1954, as Blacks pursued better housing and moved into the North Lawndale neighborhood, the congregation sold the building to Baptist worshipers led by the Rev. James Marcellus Stone.
“We had known for years that the work that had been done by my grandfather, the late Rev. Stone, and his bold stance to allow Dr. Martin Luther King to preach from the pulpit of our church was historical in nature,” says Bishop Fitzpatrick. “Getting the landmark status for Stone Temple Baptist Church has been something that my wife and I had talked about on multiple occasions.”
In January 2014, the church held its first annual birthday celebration for Dr. King that was sponsored by several organizations including: The Jewish United Fund and The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and other supporters.
“It was during this service that my wife and I meet Ward Miller. Miller began talking to us about the church becoming a historical landmark,” says the Bishop. Miller recalls the surprising moment saying: “The Bishop and his wife, Reshorna, looked at me and stated in so many words ‘that they were looking into such a possibility of a landmark designation or some type of historical recognition,’ and here I am before them asking if they would consider such an honor for their church building.”
Enthusiastic about their reaction, Miller considered it a “provident” act “that we had all come together that morning.” Inspired by one of the board members of Preservation Chicago, Miller continued that he was invited to King’s celebration by Charles Leeks, an urban planner who was involved in the “Greystone Initiative” for many years in the North Lawndale Community.
According to Bishop Fitzpatrick, “At that point, my wife and I saw the door being opened. Miller put us in touch with several people to discuss the possibility.” The hands that moved the idea closer to reality were Matt Crawford, Department of Planning and Development, Eleanor Esser Gorski, director of Historic Preservation, Department of Planning and Development and even Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself.
However, there was a period of silence that lasted “over a year” he shares before they received a call in January of this year from the Landmark Planning and Development office. “The Mayor spoke and declared that Stone Temple would be granted landmark status.”
On June 22, 2016, the Mayor’s office issued the following press release stating in part that “. . .Designed with an eclectic mix of Romanesque and Moorish-inspired details by architect Joseph W. Cohen & Co., the brick, and limestone structure has many features of a traditional synagogue, including a horseshoe-shaped sanctuary, slender columns and tapestry brick. The landmark designation will protect all exterior elevations, the sanctuary, and entrance vestibule from significant alteration or demolition.”
View the entire press release here. Finally, the efforts of many people, many faiths, and many different backgrounds all came together to a resounding conclusion.
The Landmark Plaque Dedication
Just as his grandfather Rev. Stone and Dr. King did in the late 50s and early 60s, Bishop Fitzpatrick took to the podium this past Sunday – 53 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream Speech” – acknowledging all the hard work and efforts of those who came before him and the legacy they left behind that led to the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Joining him were Congressman Danny K. Davis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Eleanor Gorski, director of Historic Preservation and other officials, neighbors, Stone Temple congregation, and well-wishers.
The plaque, that sat proudly on a podium at the front of the sanctuary not only symbolizes the historic significance of the building but the renewed focus on civil rights and racial discrimination against those who continue to be disenfranchised.
Says Bishop Fitzpatrick “The church continues to make use of a podium and chairs that were used by Dr. King. To God be the glory.”
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