Interested in living in one of the first racially-integrated churches in Chicago? A developer is working on converting this striking Gothic church into 29 rental apartments and a small co-working space…a slightly unusual one, but a preservation and housing win nonetheless. 

1946 postcard, Curt Teich Postcard Archives, Newberry Library | 2022 photo

The integration of St. James: this part of Kenwood flipped from 78% white in 1948 to 85% Black in only five years—man, blockbusting and white panic were POWERFUL. Rather than pick up and leave like many Protestant congregations, a shrinking St. James UMC decided to respond to white flight in a relatively novel way ( Chicago standards): they opened up their doors to the new neighbors.

Not all at once—they started by opening a YMCA branch in the church to serve neighborhood kids—but integrating the church was an intentional response to the congregation’s declining numbers, to the extent that in the 1960s the Chicago Defender published an article headlined, “The St. James Story – Lesson in Integration”.

Built in 1925 after their previous church on this site burned down, at the time this was one of the wealthiest congregations in the city, in one of its most fashionable neighborhoods. For example: one of the church trustees involved in the rebuilding efforts was Albert W. Harris, whose family gave its name to one of the city’s biggest banks (Harris Bank, acquired by Bank of Montreal in 1984, now known as BMO).

After the fire, St. James merged with Oakland Methodist Episcopal, and the combined congregation hired the high-profile firm of Tallmadge & Watson for their new church. Tallmadge & Watson were prolific Chicago architects, known for their Prairie-style homes and Gothic churches—here, you can even catch a hint of early Art Deco in the verticality and stripped down ornamentation. 

While the racial integration of the congregation appears to have been pretty successful, like many churches their numbers dwindled over the decades. In the 1990s, the congregation rented out space to a charter school, North Kenwood Charter. In the end, it was too much building for a small congregation to maintain. St. James closed in 2010, merging with Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church, an the building was sold in 2016. The church's grand Casavant Frères pipe organ, picked out in the 1920s by influential Chicago organist Tina Mae Haines, ended up at St. John Cantius.

Included as a contributing property in the North Kenwood Multiple Resource District, a landmark district designated in 1993, a developer plans to convert the building into apartments and a co-working space. Designed by ZED Architects, a building permit was issued in February 2023.

Proposed floor plan for apartment conversion via Urbanize Chicago

Production Files

Further reading:

The St. James Methodist Episcopal organist, Tina Mae Haines, was a high-profile Chicago organist in the 1920s. A student of Alexandre Guilmant in France, Haines personally selected St. James' 1926 Casavant Frères opus 1130 pipe organ. Its removal, restoration, and relocation to St. John Cantius Catholic Church after St. James closure appears to have been a huge undertaking.

A history of the organs of Saint John Cantius Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois
The history of the pipe organs of St. John Cantius Catholic Chicago, Chicago, including Casavant, Felgemaker, Wurlitzer.
Redpath Chautauqua Collection Redpath Chautauqua Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries