Will East Village's St. Boniface survive the wrecking ball next week?


St. Boniface complex around 1990*

There was a 30-day hold on a decision for demolition and the Academy of Music is continuing to work on the possibility that they will be able to purchase it. 

Once again East Village's historic St. Boniface Church is facing a demolition order. However, the Chicago Academy of Music (CAM) is interested in the church and property but needs a 75-day court ordered extension to be issued at the May 4 hearing. 

That 75-day time frame will allow CAM to prepare a proper due diligence report and zoning analysis as well as have meetings with the community, the alderman and the City of Chicago Landmarks Commission. 


For their financial model, CAM used $10.3 million dollar church repair and restoration estimate prepared for the City of Chicago by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. (WJE). However that estimate is skewed for CAM's usage because they were not prepared with the music school function in mind, and was (by WJE's own admission) not prepared based upon architectural drawings and specifications, explained Bob Zwolinski, an area resident.   

A more accurate contractor’s estimate can be prepared based upon architectural drawings and specifications for the necessary repair and restoration of the building.

By the end of that series of activities, CAM and their developer team will know if the St. Boniface site will satisfy their needs. 

For those interested in lending their voice to save St. Boniface, contact Alderman Walter Burnett, 4 N Western Ave, 312.432.1995, and express your interest is in him getting a 75-day extension. 

Steeped in the history of the community, many people in the community do not want to see the church torn down. Neighbors of Saint Boniface (NoSB), the East Village Association (EVA) as well as Preservation Chicago have worked to save this Romanesque Revival style church since 1999.

There is one potential point of disagreement among those who want to save the church. That is to maintain the existing residential zoning of RS-3 (single-family homes and duplex). While NoSB is amenable to zoning changes relative to the church, they are not relative to other structures around the church. 


A column at St. Boniface

The current owner, who purchased the property for $1 from the City also wants to keep the existing zoning, while CAM is saying that they may need more residential to meet their needs. 

For the sake of the community, it is hoped that those points can be worked out if CAM is able to get an extension to determine whether their needs can be met for an affordable price. 

Saving the church to date
Over looking Eckhart Park, the St. Boniface complex originally included the church, school and rectory. 

The school was demolished in 2004, with its arched façade carefully dismantled and numbered for future reconstruction. 

Another demolition  effort came close in 2008 when the community once again became involved and engaged Alderman Walter Burnett. 

Many proposals came and went until 2010. After a complicated land swap agreement was reached between the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Board of Education and Institutional Project Management LLC (IPM), IPM became the owners of St. Boniface on Oct. 20. The church was to have been adaptively reused for a senior living center, retaining much of its historic fabric. 

By 2013, that "marriage" fell apart and the City sold the property for $1 to its current owner Phil Moeller. Under the name Carefree Development, LLC, agreed to take over the project, stabilize the structure and finish the senior living project. 

An unexpected consequence of the early St. Boniface efforts was the formation of Preservation Chicago in 2001 by Jonathan Fine and Mike Moran. 


Northwest side of the church

Church history
St. Boniface buildings (church, school, and rectory) were built between 1896 and 1904. The church was designed by architect Henry J. Schlacks and was constructed between 1902 and 1904. 

As described by Preservation Chicago, "St. Boniface, named for the patron saint of Germany, was established for German immigrants in 1865. After The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, St. Boniface provided refuge for the great masses that were displaced. Later, one of its parish priests, Father Evers, lead the effort to condemn the 10 acres adjacent to the church, which is now Eckhart Park. The historical changes of the ethnic makeup of the congregation mirror the same transitions that are the very history of the West Town neighborhood."

Photo source: Neighbors of St. Boniface



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