Former Near North Church Returning to Dust for Mini Condo Block

56 West Huron

The former Carter Memorial Assyrian Presbyterian Church at 56 West Huron Street.

A former church-turned-hair salon will soon get all gussied up for its date with a wrecking ball.  Paperwork has been filed with the Chicago Plan Commission to raze 56 West Huron Street and turn it into a small condominium block.

As downtown Chicago’s condominium market slowly comes back to life, developers who are jumping on board early are being cautious.  Instead of reaching 50, 60, 70, 80 stories into the sky like they did during the last condo boom, today’s developers are keeping things right around a dozen stories, with about the same number of homes, kitting them out for luxury shoppers who can afford to be early adopters.

56 West Huron started out as the Carter Memorial Assyrian Presbyterian Church (officially the “Carter Memorial Church, Assyrian Presbyterian Mission”), helping Lebanese, Persian and other Middle Eastern Christian immigrants to Chicago adapt to their new home town.  Its first pastor was the Reverend Haidow Ablahat, who came to America to study at the McCormick Theological Seminary.  When he graduated in 1907, he had a ready-made flock of 30 fellow immigrants waiting for him.

The small group found space to worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s Gold Coast, and there the church-within-a-church flourished.

It was the death of a Mr. C.B. Carter that changed things radically for the Assyrian Presbyterians.  In his will he left money to be used for the construction of a new church for the group, and by 1912 they had their own place — 56 West Huron.

With more space, and more immigrants arriving all the time, the church continued to grow and by the 1940’s was bursting at the seams.  Work began in 1946 on a new church at 4320 North Clark Street.  It’s now the Chicago Chinese Baptist Church.  But construction took longer than expected and the Assyrians had to move into a temporary location for a year.  But in November, 1948 the congregation was able to move into the new building across the street from Graceland Cemetery.

The downtown church building was empty for almost 20 years, when in 1963 an entertainment entrepreneur opened a clone of his New York comedy cabaret in the building.  The renovation replaced much of the old stained glass with brick, and transformed the interior into an unrecognizable space.  The troupe’s desecration was apparently rewarded with a very short run.  The Whitehall, as it was known, closed in August of 1963, just three months after it opened.

In March of 1964 a second performance group re-opened the space as The Belfry and suffered similar failure.

The next idea for the space was a photography studio, which was much more successful.  The Devenny-Wood photo studio operated in the former church from 1964 through the 1980’s when it became a hair salon. Among its more notable clients was First Lady Michelle Obama.

Now the next phase of life for 56 West Huron is the removal of the former church building, and the erection of a small condominium block.  The ground floor will be the lobby (natch) and parking, with the habitations above.  Here’s what else we know so far:

  • Address: 56 West Huron Street
  • Developer: 56 W. Huron LLC
  • For realsies: Kiferbaum Development
  • Current zoning: DX-5
  • Requested zoning: DX-7
  • Maximum height: 154 feet, 11 inches
  • Floors: 13
  • Residences: 11
  • Parking: 11 spaces

 

Location: 56 West Huron Street, Near North

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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