NOBLE SQUARE — Neighbors and former parishioners of St. Boniface Church — saved from demolition and slated to be re-purposed into condos— on Saturday toured the century-old structure on the northeast corner of Noble and Chestnut street at a celebratory block party.
"This was a great time, so emotional walking into that church again even without the pews, altar and stained glass windows," said Tina Witczak Martinez, a Portage Park resident who grew up in West Town and was baptized and married at the church at 1358 W. Chestnut St.
Martinez, who also graduated from the now-demolished St. Boniface High School in 1976, was in her late 20s when the church was closed by the Archdiocese of Chicago in June of 1990.
"So much of my family and friends resides within these walls. I hope to see it again in its new glory," Martinez said.
Fans of St. Boniface Church: Elaine Coorens, Catherine Garypie and Micheal VanDam. [Alisa Hauser/Vine]
Developer Michael Skoulsky's firm Stas Development bought the church last month under a tight deadline. Skoulsky, along with investor David Ruttenberg of Marc Realty Capital, said that they are considering seeking city landmark designation for the exterior of the building, with the help of Preservation Chicago, a nonprofit advocacy group that seeks to preserve historic buildings.
"I will need to add some windows, but will be conscious of the entire structure and design. Once I have conceptual designs, I will consult with the city," Skoulsky said.
Skoulsky's plans include rehabilitating the church into 15 residential dwellings, likely condos. The proposal also includes a new 24-unit residential building next door and a satellite campus for the Hyde Park-based Chicago Academy of Music.
Skoulsky said the goal is to begin rehabbing the church in late spring or early summer.
"In the meantime, I am stabilizing the property and maintaining it," he said.
Designed by architect Henry Schlacks, the 32,000-square-foot Romanesque-style church was completed in 1902. Over the past few years, squatters and trespassers have made the deteriorating building their home, marring walls and religious artifacts with graffiti.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said that the members of the group, which traces its beginnings to a conversation on the steps of St, Boniface in 1999, are "overjoyed" and hope that the St. Boniface project will be a success and model for dozens of other closed churches in the city.
Peter Gariepy, who lives two blocks from St. Boniface, said he is "grateful that the neighborhood will not lose the unique character that comes with St. Boniface overlooking Eckhart Park."
Gariepy added, "As the parent of infant, the presence of the Chicago Academy of Music will be a welcomed amenity for my daughter and other neighborhood children to be exposed to live music."
The free community block party was organized by Preservation Chicago, Chicago Academy of Music and Bob Zwolinski, an East Village resident who proposed to his girlfriend, Megan Dunworth, at the altar during the party. Watch the proposal here.
On the night before the event, Skoulsky, Kevin Stawiarski and Zwolinski cleaned graffiti off of the church's marble altar, a task that Skoulsky said was important given how much the church means to many of the former parishioners.
"So many people shared their memories, and their support for this project has been really touching," Skoulsky said.
Church altar before and after cleaning. [Michael Skoulsky]
Inside the sun-filled church during the block party. [Courtesy of Anne Poluchowicz]
The walls of St. Boniface's sanctuary [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The walls of the church are marred by graffiti and street art from years of trespassing. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The church's altar. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
East Village's Bob Zwolinski raises a toast to the community's efforts to save St. Boniface Church. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The church's exterior could eventually be Landmarked, according to Preservation Chicago. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Noble Square resident Dan Stokes talks with Michael Skoulsky at the block party. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Tina Witczak Martinez, seated in blue Cubs jacket, celebrated life milestones at St. Boniface [Provided]
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The deteriorating yet still beautiful church. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Sunset at St. Boniface. [Cheston Bogue]
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