In Hammond, just across the state line in Indiana, there is a church that saves not only souls, but also buildings.
A 19th-century pillared bank, a landmark 1930s Art Deco American courthouse, and a mid-century modernist parking garage draped with concrete diamonds are among the buildings making up the seven-square-block campus of Hammond’s First Baptist Church.
In total, the church owns about 20 buildings along State and Sibley streets, some of which were built by the church, but most of which have been bought up over the years.
Along those blocks you’ll find the multicolored terracotta that wraps an old 1927 L. Fish Furniture store, the pointed parapet of the old Lincoln Hotel built in 1923, and a block lined on either side with 1960s church buildings with dozens of crosses made of crosses. of raised brick.
It’s like an open-air architecture museum, 37 miles southeast of the Loop.
“We’ve been here for 135 years; we’re part of Hammond’s history,” said Eddie Lapina, the Church’s administrative pastor who is responsible for the buildings. “If we can help preserve some of the historic character, we’d be happy to.”
first Baptist Dating back to 1887 in Hammond, it has been on Sibley Avenue since 1889. In 2012, the church made headlines when its pastor, 54-year-old Jack Schaap, pleaded guilty on charges related to his sexual exploitation of a 16-year-old girl whose parents had asked him to accompany her. In May of this year he was released from prison after serving nine years of a 12-year sentence. Schaap’s was the most striking of several sex-related lawsuits against men associated with the Church since the 1990s.
As the church moves forward with its current leadership, it tends towards a series of old buildings that would otherwise have been lost to neglect. Lapina Estimates Church Spent “Almost $50 Million on Rehabilitation” [buildings] about State and Sibley” over the years.
Most of the buildings are used for church programs.
Building B, now home to programs for the hearing-impaired congregants, is in a 1924 Renaissance Revival-style lodge building, with bands of carved ornaments and slender arched windows across the façade. It was originally the social hall of the local Odd Fellows, a social group, and later a plumbing company. The church purchased the former U.S. Courthouse and Post Office in 2009. That building was constructed in 1939 with a smooth limestone finish and is now the church’s administrative center, with restored copper fixtures, terrazzo floors, and the judge’s pews from the two courtrooms repurposed as information kiosks. The old Hotel Lincoln now houses men recovering from addiction.
First Baptist also demolished a few buildings. Just last month, it knocked down Friduss’ old furniture store, a two-story building that Lapin said was beyond repair. In 2005 the church opened its main, 7,500 seats auditorium on the site where the old Minas department store, a building from 1913, was demolished.
On the next block is one of two red brick mid-century buildings whose outer walls form the street lined with crosses. The larger of the two, which now houses the First Baptist Hispanic Branch, is a 1960s building built around a 1920s building. Chuy Gonzales, the church member who manages campus maintenance, pointed out the cornerstone, dating to 1964. It also showed an interior door flanked by carved stone pillars and, above them, the words “May we know him”. This is from the 1920s First Baptist church, which is now hidden in the 1964 building.
The 1960s were a time of flourishing growth for First Baptist, under Pastor Jack Hyles (Shap’s father-in-law). Hyles came from Texas in 1959 to lead the Church in Indiana. In 1975 it was a nationally known megachurch with, according to a Time magazine article, 22,000 members and the ‘largest Sunday school in the world’.
First Baptist was a strict fundamentalist church, but with a carnival atmosphere. There were free goldfish, kids ice cream, bands, and a huge bus caravan that brought people from Chicago every Sunday. Gonzales, the campus administrator, was one of them. He came from North Lawndale in the early 1970s and is still in the Church five decades later. He now lives nearby.
First Baptist “has always been important in my life,” Gonzales said. It has also been important in preserving the city’s architectural history.
Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. follow him @Dennis_Rodkin.
K’Von Jackson is the freelance photojournalist for Reset’s “What’s That Building?” follow him @true_chicago.