Wednesday, February 23, 2011

St. Paul's Congregation, Preservation Warriors

The St. Paul Church of God in Christ, owners of the Clarke House during the mid-twentieth century, saw the value in presenting the home as a unique example of architectural and social history. In celebration of Black History Month, we are presenting the incredible contributions of church members to the preservation of Clarke House and their commitment to public education. Despite demands from outside parties to tear down the house, St. Paul Church of God in Christ stood their ground, chasing off real estate agents who would demolish Clarke House in favor of a modern structure. Read on in the excerpt below about the efforts of Bishop Louis Henry Ford and his flock to share Clarke House with the citizens of Chicago years before the home became an official landmark.

Robert Grimm
Chicago Daily Tribune August 19, 1962

Just as the cupola on its roof once served as a landmark for ships navigating the waters of lake Michigan, a Greek-revival white frame mansion in Hyde Park now stands as a symbol of what can be accomplished thru [sic] residential conservation. Neither physical relocation, not use by successive owners, not the ravages of time and weather, have brought on the destruction of Chicago's oldest residence, the "Widow Clarke House," 4526 Wabash av. The home was built in 1836 by a Chicago hardware dealer. The structure's present owner, St. Paul Church of God in Christ, 4528 Wabash av., plans to show it off at a 126th anniversary celebration from 3 to 7p.m. today.

Old-Time Suburbia
Tours in the afternoon will give visitors a glimpse of the 19th century version of suburban living. A program in the evening will include discussions of the historical and architectural significance of the house. Speakers who will address the guests at 5p.m. include Edward Sneed, Cook county commissioner; Paul Angle, director of the Chicago Historical Society; Frazier Land, president of the Chicago Urban league; Ald. Ralph Metcalfe (3rd Ward); and Earl Reed, representing the American Institute of Architects.

The church, which acquired the building in 1941, works each year toward the rehabilitation of the house. It has spent $18,000 so far, and members have donated afternoons and evenings working to restore the house to its original condition. Altho [sic] the building is used by the church as an office and meeting place, congregation members look toward the day when the house will become an historical monument- dedicated to all Chicagoans.

"Chicago has often been referred to as the city which doesn't have a place for landmarks," said Bishop Louis Henry Ford, pastor of the church. "We will continue to fight off demands to tear down this building because we feel it deserves a place in Chicago on equal footing with the water tower." In the 21 years his church has owned the building, Bishop Ford has constantly withstood the persuasion of real estate agents who propose tearing down the structure and replacing it with one of more modern design.

"This is not just any home, It is Chicago's oldest," he said. "I hope the citizens of Chicago will help us relocate the building to its original site at 16th street and Michigan avenue, complete with a park and museum."

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