A history of St. John’s church, the community vote and what to expect

 

Below is a summary of what was discussed at the recent UVNA meeting in regards to the redevelopment of the old St. John’s church and school building at the corner of Hoyne and Walton.

St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
It was built between 1905 and 1906 by German immigrants and Worthmann & Steinbach, a Chicago-based architectural firm. The congregation and school trace their history back to 1867 (Chicago itself was founded in 1833 and incorporated in 1837). In the case of St. John’s they dissolved in 1974 and sold the property to the Seventh-day Adventists. They started a Spanish-speaking congregation in the church and used the school as a social service center. Then, as with the congregation before them, their congregation moved from the area and they decided to sell the property.

By 2002, when it was known as the Central Hispanic Church, engineers report significant structural movement. Places the floor had separated from the walls. In 2005, the interior was stripped bare, with all of the pews and other furnishings removed. In 2009, a city water main broke and the basement was flooded before it was discovered and stopped. Since then vandals have also ripped out the building’s plumbing and wiring, causing extensive damage in the process.

In 2012 the property was listed for $2.6 million: “the Church will be offered via sealed-bid auction with a minimum bid set at $1 million”. Alex Troyanovsky bought the former Saint John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in February of 2013 for around $1.1 million. That same month the building were designated a historical landmark by the city, thanks to the efforts of Alderman Waguespack.

In the 2 years since there have been proposals for redevelopment that were eventually not supported by the Landmarks Commission and in some cases not supported by neighbors. In July 2014, Landmarks approved the newest plans for redevelopment, leading to an outdoor meeting of the UVNA to discuss the plans with the new project architect Victor Drapszo of Red Architects.

The current plan is expected to have a variety of 2 and 3 bedroom units, and each of the buildings will have three floors with a possible 10 units per building.

The Church building: In the front of the building (Hoyne side), the façade and stained glass will be restored to their original state. The damaged stairs will be fixed, and new railings will be installed. On the side of the building (Walton side), the façade will be preserved, and the window shapes will remain the same. The stained glass on that side will be removed and either sold or reused elsewhere in the project.

The School building: The school building will also have the façade and windows restored, along with the front door (which will be decorative only). The glass blocks on the lower floor will be opened up into more traditional windows, and the molding around the windows will be restored. New entrances will be added on both sides. There will be an addition in the back, where the roof will be raised 10 feet. The addition will not be visible from the street per the terms of the Landmarks Commission.

Parking: Both buildings will have parking. There will be room for 10 cars in the church (accessed through one main garage door), 8 in the school (4 two-car garages off the alley), and 2 in outdoor spaces on the property (between the two buildings). The developers are proposing that cars use the back alleyway to enter and exit the parking areas.
Some residents at our July meeting were concerned about the alley proposal for garage traffic. They believe the alley is too small to handle that kind of traffic (20 extra cars). In addition, the Landmarks Commission would prefer the design with the alley. They did not want to approve the curb cut and added traffic onto Hoyne, Previous UVNA membership meetings and surveys showed neighbors were unhappy with a curb cut and preferred an alley exit for cars.

In July the UVNA had requesting additional protection for the alley, including mirrors, signage, and additional lighting be placed in the alley for the plan to move forward. The UVNA had also requested regular grounds maintenance for the duration of the project (trim the bushes and mow the grass around the property, and to secure all openings into the property).

Property: By August the grounds had been cleaned up, and the architect wrote us that “we can provide additional safety elements like additional lighting and mirrors on intersection of Walton Street and alley, for the safety of pedestrians and one way traffic on Walton St. For the school garage, we will move the parking stalls as far as possible into the building so it will give more space for turns.”
Also neighbors wanted more accountability on work taking place at odd hours. Igor with MBI construction is the main contact, just reach out to Steve Niketopoulos at president@unva.org if you need help with any issues.

Regarding construction, all that has been done is interior demolition. As of the August meeting they did not have the permit to begin work on the outside, so there is no timeline to share. What we do know is they hope to have the School building ready for sales next Fall (2015), and already have a name for the new project, calling this “The Belfry”. The Church building should be ready for sales a few months after the School building.

Community Vote: At the August UVNA Membership meeting we discussed all the above points. The vote for the Church redevelopment was 20-3 in favor. The vote for UVNA membership was 11-1 in favor, while neighbors who were not current members voted 9-2 in favor. We made sure to let all neighbors who attended to have a say in this process as this has been something in development for years.

Many neighbors believed it was more important to see this property refurbished and lived in than remain vacant and not maintained. We plan on adding any new information about construction timelines to our mailing list and Facebook page as soon as we receive them. We have contacted the 2nd Ward to let Alderman Fioretti know we support these current plans.

Thank you to everyone for being an engaged community, through the efforts of many neighbors this building will remain a fixture in Ukrainian Village.

* Full plans for the development are available here: http://www.uvna.org/2014/07/urgent-meeting-this-thursday-night-about-development-changes-to-the-old-st-johns-church-building-and-school-hoynewalton/

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