St. Stephen’s Church at 56th and Blackstone is slowly crumbling. Though the building’s facade retains its grandeur—the effect of four gleaming columns and a stone arch is barely dimmed by a graffiti tag sprayed next to the wooden doors—the abandoned sanctuary inside is a prime symbol of urban decay.
Built in 1919, St. Stephen’s got its name from the second parish to inhabit the building, a small, predominantly black congregation that moved in after the original tenants’ membership dwindled, according to a 2009 article in the Chicago Maroon. The congregation vacated the space in the late 1990s, after which the church was purchased by developer Konstantinos “Gus” Antoniou, who worked with residents to devise a plan that would incorporate the facade into a four-story condominium. But plans stalled when the church’s neighbors to the north, University of Chicago professor J.Z. Smith and his wife, Elaine, expressed concern about the proposed building’s parking structure. Ideas for how to convert the church into usable space often crop up, but there are no immediate plans on the table to save St. Stephen’s.
As of mid-2011, the church was back on the market and priced at around $1.5 million. Since then, the property has been pulled from most real estate listings, and residents suggest that it’s in the hands of yet another bank owner.
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