One of the oldest neighborhood churches in the city, built in 1888, still stands today in Logan Square.
The old Polish-speaking parishioners of St. Hedwig’s might be confused by the Tibetan prayer flags that now drape the entryway, or the profusion of skeletons, skulls, and gothic curios that line the walls. But there is still plenty they would recognize, from the altar fresco to the stained-glass windows and stenciled ceiling beams.
In fact, the church on Washtenaw Avenue has changed hands many times over the years following the shifting demands and demographics of the neighborhood.
The building is now in its fifth or sixth reincarnation—this time as a private home—first began its life as St. Mark’s Reformed Episcopal Church. Later, in 1934, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese leased the space and it became the Hungarian Catholic Church of St. Emeric. The son of Hungary’s first Christian king, St. Emeric, was killed by a boar while hunting. He is often pictured with a crown and lilies, which are featured in the two prominent stained-glass windows above the building’s altar area.
The Archdiocese later bought the building in 1939 and opened St. Hedwig’s Mission Church, one of four satellite churches that allowed St. Hedwig’s in Bucktown to serve a more geographically diverse population.
The church next changed hands in 1990, only this time instead of a religious order, the buyers were a couple who converted the building into a home. (St. Hedwig had experienced a “profound change,” when the Kennedy Expressway was built through the heart of the parish.)
The building’s extensive remodel, completed over two years, carefully preserved its many rich architectural elements while retrofitting it for use as a private residence.
The current owners, Jim Jacoby and Molly Currey, purchased the building in 2016 and added their own touches, like the darkly playful décor that gives a nod to the building’s past. Furnishings include a church prayer kneeler, various skulls and religious figurines, and a baptismal font converted into a bar.
The historic building has helped enliven the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood, too, by contributing to an urban fabric that is rich and varied.
“Historic preservation is not just about keeping old buildings around,” said the National Preservation Trust in its 10 Principles for ReUrbanism. “It is about keeping them alive, in active use, and relevant to the needs of the people who surround them.”
Instead of bulldozing and building anew, adaptive reuse of older buildings can help cities preserve their heritage and maintain a sense of identity, history
While privately owned, the old church continues to play a role in the community today. It was featured on the 2018 Logan Square House Walk, occasionally hosts small concerts, and is listed on Airbnb where, just like 100 years ago, people seem to enjoy using it for weddings and small gatherings.
All photos by Petra Ford of Paper & Pate Photography.