The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has approved the Adopt-a-Landmark Fund for the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church at 4501 S Vincennes Avenue in Grand Boulevard. Located on the intersection with E 45th Street, the historical church is credited as being the birthplace of Gospel music and a long term stalwart of the local community. Under a new pastor, the church hopes to see a renaissance as it uses the money for the restoration of the Dankmar Adler designed synagogue, originally built for the Isaiah Temple congregation.
Born in Germany to Jewish parents, Adler lived in Detroit before ending up in Chicago where he would form a partnership with Louis Sullivan working on buildings across the nation, including the Auditorium Building. His advanced knowledge of acoustics made him popular in the field, with the Neoclassical-style Isaiah Temple being his last work in 1899 before dying in 1900. Adorned with arches, intricate stained glass panels, and a pitched roof over the cross-shaped 1,200-seat auditorium, the structure was bought by the Ebenezer church in 1921.
Moving from Alabama to Chicago in 1931, reverend James Smith decided to breathe new life into the classical European style music played within the church’s walls. He did this by bringing in singer Theodore Frye, and composers Thomas Dorsey and Roberta Martin who created the nation’s first Gospel choir soon after. Mixing in sounds commonly heard in jazz and blues music along with choreography, the group of novice volunteer singers quickly changed the music scene forever. Two months after starting, Dorsey would then move on to do the same at the nearby Pilgrim’s Church, who is often credited for its start instead.
Unfortunately like many modern congregations, it has been dwindling in attendance numbers with only roughly 100 weekly attendees in recent years, leading to some degree of disrepair. The $900,000 in funds would go towards a $1.2 million restoration effort which would preserve the structure for generations to come; the church is also collecting money via their website for the work. Due to the amount of the fund, City Council will need to approve the request which once approved will be disbursed out in multiple payments, further information on the scope of the repairs has not yet been revealed.