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CHICAGO-St. Gelasius Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood has the dubious distinction of being the first property directly affected by the city’s demolition delay ordinance. Although the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is selling surplus properties on the South Side, it hired a demolition crew to raze the building at 6401 S. Woodlawn Ave., which has been vacant since June 2002.

While demolition appeared to be the most economically feasible move for the church, city officials say they have begun talking with the archdiocese about potential buyers or users for the property.

Besides prompting city officials to stop demolition crews with a 90-day hold on a demolition permit, the move to knock down the 80-year-old building has galvanized the Woodlawn community, members of the Chicago Commission on Landmarks were told last week. The commission approved preliminary landmark status for the church designed by Henry John Schlacks, regarded as “the master of Catholic Church architecture in Chicago,” says Terry Tatum of the department of planning and development’s landmark division. Public hearings will follow, and the city council ultimately will vote on landmark designation for the church.

“We believe this is a truly significant building,” says deputy planning and development commissioner Brian Goeken. “It meets the landmark criteria, and demolition would be unfortunate.”

Landmark designation would apply only to the building’s exterior, as a fire in 1976 destroyed historical features inside the church.

Residents quickly alerted city officials when they saw a demolition crew at St. Gelasius, and the work was halted. “Had they not taken action, this building would be rubble,” says Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago.

A recommendation from the commission would be referred to Alderman Arenda Troutman’s city council committee on historical landmarks. St. Gelasius is in her 20th Ward. “So much has been demolished in my ward,” Troutman says. “If you go down 63rd Street, a lot of the stores that were once there are gone.”

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