The North Side Stranger's Home Missionary Baptist Church, 617 W. Evergreen Ave., was covered in William Walker's historic mural for decades. [Photo credits: (left) Flickr/(right) DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
NEAR NORTH SIDE — A historic mural covering a Cabrini-Green church that the community fought to preserve was painted over late last week, serving as a symbol for the rapidly changing neighborhood, advocates say.
The North Side Stranger's Home Missionary Baptist Church, 617 W. Evergreen Ave., was easily recognizable for its sprawling "All of Mankind" mural meant to convey unity through a number of religious symbols, people of different backgrounds and names of people who were killed in atrocities. It was painted in 1972 by William Walker, who is considered one of Chicago's founding muralists.
But the beloved mural was covered up last week with no notice given to the community.
Jon Pounds, the emeritus executive director for Chicago Public Art Group, which has long fought to preserve the mural, said it was painted over in light of news that a new owner is considering converting the church into a home.
Pounds said a deal was reached recently to purchase the property.
Neither the church nor the Realtor who is listing the property responded to messages seeking comment Thursday.
"I feel bitterness and sadness," Pounds said. "The bitterness I feel is not precisely for the decision or action, or decision of someone to make money from an investment, but the bitterness is that we don't have enough of a social conscience that we can't anticipate the value of reflecting on this more. There wasn't a more accessible ability to preserve this as an element of Cabrini-Green, as an element of our contemporary life."
"We think we can unremember Cabrini-Green by destroying it, but we can't," he added.
While the mural is not lost completely, painting over it has made it "significantly more complicated" to uncover, Pounds said.
Ingeborg Kohler, 74, founded the All of Mankind Coalition seven years ago in an effort to protect the mural. She was "totally shocked" to see the mural painted over.
"This happened without our knowledge. That made it so drastic," she said.
Kohler said the mural was a symbol of harmony, respect and understanding of different religions and races — messages we could use in Chicago now more than ever.
"It was a teaching piece. Not only for adults, but specifically for kids. It was a value [that kids] could check out all of the names and events and do research on them," she said.
She also called it Walker's "masterpiece."
"He felt it was his masterpiece because he put his all into it," she said.
Walker also painted murals inside the church, which were recently whitewashed away, according to Kohler. Church officials could not be reached to confirm this information.
According to Kohler and Pounds, it would be very unlikely — though not impossible — for the new owner to tear down the church and build a new development in its place.
That's because the site is zoned for a small-scale residential building, and any new development would require a zoning change that must be approved by Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Burnett didn't immediately respond to a question for comment.
Even though the church is located on private land, it's surrounded by Chicago Housing Authority-owned properties and is included in the CHA's Cabrini-Green Redevelopment Plan, which includes redeveloping and replacing subsidized housing that was lost when the housing projects were torn down.
Ronit Bezalel, who made a documentary film about Cabrini-Green, called the loss of the mural "tragic."
"It wasn't enough to get rid of the people, but now you have to remove their art," she said.
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