In an era when so many of Chicago’s holy places are being abandoned, repurposed, or even demolished, it’s good to see a building that has been a cornerstone of its community on the road to preservation. The Chicago Landmarks Commission has approved landmark designation for the building that is now Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church.
The building opened in March of 1912 as the third home for Chicago Sinai Congregation. The $500,000 Jewish temple was built on what was then known as Grand Boulevard. In 1944, the building was bought by the Archdiocese of Chicago and became Corpus Christi High School. Then in 1962 it was bought by Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, which still occupies it today.
The building was designed by Alfred Alchuler, one of Chicago more notable historic architects. The main building is the worship space, on the southwest corner of 46th Street and Martin Luther King Junior Drive. There is also a second building, known originally as the Social Center Building, on the southern portion of the property. The two are linked by a joining wing, but are visually distinct in design.
The main building contains a massive sanctuary space, with individual seating on a sloped main floor and also a surrounding balcony under an arched roof. The main pediment is carved with words from Isaiah 56: “Mine house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.”
As impressive as the actual building is, this building’s role in the history of America is even more important. It was the one time headquarters of such civil rights groups as Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH.
Even though it is almost 108 years old, the building is said to be in very good condition. Historic buildings are constantly under threat in other parts of the city. Perhaps with continued landmarking, it will be the south side where Chicago’s architectural legacy is preserved for future generations.