City - Chicago, IL - The birthplace of Gospel music 1941
Photograph - Colorized Photo
Colorized photo from 1941, April Original title: Crowd coming out of Pilgrim Baptist Church Photographer: Russell Lee Location: 3301 S. Indiana Ave, Chicago, IL
Though this building looks like a Jewish building, its in fact currently the Pilgrim Baptist church, located in the heart of Bronzeville, it was where gospel was created.
It looks Jewish, because it is Jewish, it started its life as a synagogue, Kehilath Anshe Ma'arav. It was built in 1891 by Chicago architects, Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. This is actually their second building they built and moved into, their first was built in the 1840's. They stayed in this building till around 1924, in which they merged with another reform congregation, and are still there now. They continue as the K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple.
In 1924, this building was converted into a church, and that's when it became the Baptist church. By the 1930's, it was credited as the birthplace of gospel music. Thomas A. Dorsey, the "Father of Gospel Music", was the music director at Pilgrim Baptist for decades. Albertina Walker, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Sallie Martin, James Cleveland, The Staples Singers, and The Edwin Hawkins Singers are among those who have sung at the church.
Famous members of the congregation include Bessie Coleman. The church also hosted the funeral service of boxer Jack Johnson in 1946, and was prominent in the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered sermons at the church during the height of the movement.
In 1973, the building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and designated a Chicago Landmark in 1981.
On January 6 2006, they invested $500,000 to restore the building, while doing roof repairs, roofers were fitting metal coping that was sealed with a blowtorch. This accidentally set the building on fire. The fire raged, collapsing a large roof area in the center, onlookers were able to shoot video from their office buildings before evacuating.
Decades of historical records, along with boxes of Dorsey's original sheet music were destroyed in the fire. An elementary school across the street had to be evacuated, and the nearby Illinois College of Optometry building had windows destroyed by the high temperatures of the fire. Cars parked alongside the church were "virtually incinerated."
All that's left today are 3 of the 4 walls, there is no roof, very sturdy scaffolding holds up the building, its hollow inside. But there are future plans to turn it into a new church, they want to rebuild it so it looked like the same building as it did in the 1920's. But its been sitting burned out for quite a while now, pieces blowing down in strong storms.
The congregation now meets in a building across the street from the burnt out structure.
January 30th, 2023
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