Church of the Epiphany to become new arts center
May 4, 2018

Photo courtesy Chicago Designslinger
Plans are underway to convert the former Church of the Epiphany at 201 S. Ashland Ave. into the Epiphany Center for the Arts.

By Nathan Worcester

The former Church of the Epiphany at 201 S. Ashland Ave. is one step closer to becoming the Epiphany Center for the Arts (ECA). On March 27, the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks & Building Standards approved an ordinance granting the property a Planned Development zoning designation.

In October 2017, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago sold the property to 201 S. Ashland LLC, owned by real estate developer David Chase. Some buildings in the church complex already are undergoing reconstruction.

According to Chase, the ECA will provide an eclectic range of features, including a café with indoor and outdoor seating, artist studios, a bar, and a showcase kitchen. The church building’s massive sanctuary, which includes an 1892 Ferrand & Votey organ that Chase plans to repair, will serve as a venue for large weddings, corporate functions, bar or bat mitzvahs, performance art, and other events.

Chase indicated reconstruction will not alter significantly the sanctuary’s original stained glass windows and other interior fixtures, although he does want to convert the sanctuary’s largely undeveloped and somewhat catacomb-like basement into artist studios and other functional space. Chase also will maintain a sanctuary-like room on the second floor of the parish building.

Chase declined to name any specific prospective tenants.

“The ECA will support local visual, performing, and culinary arts; numerous conversations are ongoing with a wide array of artists representing each of these areas,” Chase said. “We also expect to attract national attention as a result of our programming.”

Chase also indicated the property may host a comedy theater and a theater company.

Beautiful stained glass windows will add to the ambiance of the new arts center planned for Church of the Epiphany.

19th century architecture

Built in 1885 by Francis M. Whitehouse, the son of Illinois’s second Episcopal bishop, the Norman Gothic style church is best known for memorializing two Chicagoans whose deaths made headlines in different eras. In 1893, it held the funeral of real estate developer, former slave owner, and then-mayor Carter Harrison Sr. after a disgruntled office seeker shot and killed him. In 1969, it held a service honoring Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton after he was slain in a controversial raid by Chicago Police Department officers.

The church and parish buildings belong to the Jackson Boulevard District, making them official Chicago landmarks. They also appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Thus, their exteriors cannot be greatly changed or demolished. Chase noted, however, that workers will remodel their interiors heavily in several places, including throughout the parish building’s first floor. Besides installing an elevator and moving or adding some doors, he will replace some structural beams in the parish building basement.

Chase said the exteriors of the property’s two modern buildings, the former Higgins Halfway House and the Chase House, will “see upgrades and modification to achieve programmatic needs.” Neither building is in the Jackson Boulevard District.

Chase, who lives in the neighborhood, emphasized his personal connection to the church.

“My wife, Kimberly Rachal, and I were married in the church,” Chase said. “When the Episcopal Diocese decided to close its doors in 2011, Kimberly reached out to the board and expressed an interest in purchasing the property if they were unable to identify another church based user [or] buyer. Kimberly and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary on the night we closed on the purchase.”

Local support

Brian Ferber of Neighbors of West Loop (NOWL) expressed strong support for the project.

“I think that everything is in the developer’s favor,” said Ferber. “If anything, it’s nice when one of the lead guys [Chase] lives in your neighborhood.”

“The Church of the Epiphany had an amazing interior of superbly carved wood and magnificent cherry wood pews, most of which has been much compromised by innovative clergy,” said Rolf Achilles, an expert on interior design and architecture who lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “The terracotta wall tiles are important and should be restored and saved as they are. I hope it makes it as a cultural center for the arts. Programming takes money and plenty of creativity. It would be sad to see Epiphany languish once again.”

“We’ve had good input from residents on this,” said Alderman Jason C. Ervin of the 28th Ward, which includes the property. “I think community support from residents is pretty solid.”

Although Chase withdrew from a large development project in Canaryville in 2017, Alderman Ervin was not concerned about this project stalling.

“Barring unforeseen circumstances, everything appears to be on track,” said Ervin.

Chase expects to receive a structural demolition permit by mid-May, and he predicts that much of the construction will take place during July and August. He projects the ECA will open in or near April 2019.

For more on NOWL, log on to neighborsofwestloop.com. For Ervin, call (773) 533-0900.