Monday, January 09, 2012

Time grows short for historic North Lawndale synagogue | WBEZ

Via Lee Bey’s Blog,

A derelict former North Lawndale synagogue could get substantially closer to the wrecker's ball this week as Department of Buildings officials begin putting the edifices' demolition contract out to bid, according to a city spokesperson.

Building Department spokesperson Bill McCaffrey said the agency will bid out the contract to demolish the former temple at 3411 W. Douglas Blvd. within "the next couple of days." Due to the building's size--it is big enough to have once sat 3,500 worshippers--department officials will allow prospective bidders to tour the structure before drafting their bids, McCaffrey said.

The shuttered and deteriorating brick and limestone Byzantine Revival structure was once a center of a Jewish--and later, African American--life in the West Side community. Built in 1913 as Anshe Kenesseth Israel, the former temple was once among the largest synagogues in North Lawndale, a predominantly Jewish community in the early and mid-20th century. And for now, the building belongs to a distinctive, but shrinking collection of architecturally high-quality synagogues, schools and public buildings built during that era.

Time grows short for historic North Lawndale synagogue | WBEZ

And the petition drive here….

The City of Chicago Department of Buildings has taken court action to demolish 3411 West Douglas, an historic synagogue and the former home of Friendship Baptist Church, that has hosted Martin Luther King Jr., when he lived in the North Lawndale community on Chicago's West Side. The building is not structurally sound and poses imminent danger to the local community. The current owners are not able to finance the necessary costs to stabilize and renovate the building, which exceed over $1 million.

With over 1,500 vacant lots, North Lawndale has more vacant buildings and lots than any other community in Chicago, other than Englewood, to the best of my knowledge. The result has been decreases in population, increase in blight, the creation of environments that encourage crime and general reduction in the number of historically and culturally significant buildings. When the cultural assets of a community erode, everything else falls apart. Children’s education becomes less well rounded and relevant and students’ ability to think critically and understand their roles in society decreases. The economic base becomes less diversified, providing fewer opportunities to create a sense of community pride or destinations for tourists, who, in turn would patronize local businesses.

Redeveloping this building could create an anchor for community and economic development around its heritage and culture; connect local community organizations, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, and Chicago Public Libraries; instill community pride, and create a destination for tourists.

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