The second Chicago building in recent years to bridge the separation of church and real estate developer is making a dent in the River North skyline.
3Eleven is a 24-story skyscraper rising at 311 West Illinois Street. The location used to be the parking lot for Assumption Catholic Church: the vibrant, but dilapidated Italianate church that used to be the hub of River North back when it was Chicago’s original Little Italy. A large portion of the Italian community fled the neighboring Little Hell area of the city, and ended up in the current Little Italy where they were betrayed by city leaders and had their neighborhood largely erased from the Earth. But that’s a story for another time.
This is a story about Assumption Church finally getting some long-needed repairs and expansion thanks to the deal it worked out with developer The John Buck Company. Buck gets the parking lot for its FitzGerald Associates-designed tower, the Order of Friars Servants of Mary gets to use a portion of the parking garage plus McBride Kelley Baurer Architects-designed renovations and expansion of its priory.
In these photos from Joe Zekas at YoChicago!, you can see the tower has reached around 17 stories. Its eventual 24 stories is just one floor taller than the River North Park condo block across the street. You can also see linearly behind 3Eleven’s striking yellow crane and concrete forms are four more residential buildings under construction downtown.
And in this photo from Mr. Zekas that puts 3Eleven in context, there are no fewer than ten buildings being erected (click to embiggen).
In something of a coincidence, the other downtown church that cut a similar deal with a real estate developer and is having its parking lot turned into a skyscraper is Old Saint Patrick’s Church in the West Loop. Why is this coincidence? Because Old Saint Patrick’s is a descendant of Assumption Church. OSP was organized because the Irish and the Italians at Assumption couldn’t play nice together.
In days of Chicago past — if you can imagine it — people were far less tolerant than they are today. The German immigrants hated the Italian immigrants who hated the Irish immigrants who hated the Polish immigrants who hated the Lithuanian Immigrants, and so on… So the the Archdiocese organized parishes by ethnicity and national origin. It made sense at the time, but as the various cultures assimilated into just being “Americans,” it caused the situation we have today where there are so many mothballed and abandoned churches around town.