Fight to restore building that once housed Pilgrim Baptist Church dealt another blow following Monday's storms

Michelle Gallardo Image
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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"It was devastating to me because I've been working on that building for 19 years."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One hundred mile an hour winds tore through the city Monday and dealt Pilgrim Baptist yet another blow in its fight to survive.

"It was devastating to me because I've been working on that building for 19 years," said Cynthia Jones.

In January 2006, a fire gutted the historic structure and left behind only the shell of what is not only an Adler & Sullivan design, but also, a culturally significant place.

"We're talking about the birthplace of gospel music. Thomas Dorsey. This can't get no better than this," said Leonard McGee from Gap Community Organization.

Three years ago, Don Jackson came aboard, hoping to save the structure by turning it into a Gospel Museum.

The state committed over $2 million, but so far the money hasn't come and the city has not fully backed the project either.

That's not deterring Jackson who believes the storm may serve as a catalyst.

"This may sound strange, I looked upon it really as a blessing. Because it shows the urgency that we have to get this project started," said Jackson with Central City Productions.

For those who live in Gap, which in recent years, has boomed with a new influx of housing and residents the idea of the museum is one they fully support.

However, residents said they are concerned by the lack of clarity.

"Some people say, 'well tear the thing down.' We can't afford for them to tear it down. We'd have another vacant lot in the community for 40 years," McGee said. "The question is how do we rebuild?"

"We just have to say enough is enough. The city and the state needs to come up with the funds they said they would allot to us so we can get on with that building," Jones said.

Developing what is left of the church into a museum is projected to cost upwards of $48 million. Most of that money still needs to be fundraised and supporters believe that won't happen until foundations see that the project has the full commitment of the city and state.