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Just Rewards/Miscellany

The effort to save Bronzeville's Metropolitan Community Church was among the scrappiest of those honored by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois


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Just Rewards

Architect Louis Sullivan thought of great buildings as "emotional expressions." They can also arouse emotion, some of which was on display at last Saturday's Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Awards. The annual event, produced by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and held in the golden glow of Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange trading room--reborn in the belly of the Art Institute--provided the 160 people in attendance with more than the usual rubber chicken and canned speeches.

Of the ten projects honored this year, only a couple could have happened without somebody gritting their teeth and lying down in the path of somebody else's intentions--and then worrying about how to raise a pile of money. That's what it took, for example, to save Glenview's 20-acre Wagner Farm, Crystal Lake's 138-year-old C.S. Dole Mansion, and the Golconda Dam lockkeepers' houses--the last converted from little more than abandoned shacks to tourist cottages that are turning up on "Top Ten Places to Spend a Weekend" lists.

In the case of Bronzeville's Metropolitan Community Church, at 41st and King Drive, it also took a 72-year-old woman with a can of pepper spray. Church members were shocked two years ago to learn that their pastor was planning to demolish the Romanesque building, erected in 1889, and replace it with a modern structure. They were particularly surprised since they'd raised more than $150,000 for renovations, the building was structurally sound, and it had been the site of historic speeches and events, including the founding of the Pullman porters' union. A small group began meeting weekly to strategize. They formed the Coalition to Save the Met, wrote to city officials, staged protests, circulated petitions, and began to patrol the empty property. "We tried not to have a legal thing," said coalition president Linda Slaughter. But when one of their members had to haul out the pepper spray to fend off a crew sent to remove the church's stained glass windows, they went to court and got a restraining order that remained in effect for ten months. After they prevailed in court, Slaughter said, they were denounced by their old pastor. The coalition was able to nullify sales of windows and artifacts that had already been removed and was instrumental in the building's recent sale to another church that'll move in and preserve it.

Then there's the Auditorium Theatre. Last fall Roosevelt University won an eight-year legal battle against the theater's former board, the Auditorium Theatre Council, over control of the venue; the fracas started in 1994, when members of the ATC sued the school to keep it from using theater revenues for a campus extension instead of renovations. Just 12 days before the LPCI awards, Roosevelt hosted an open house showcasing the theater's three-year, $14 million renovation without bothering to make it clear that the work was almost all done under the old regime. There wasn't any confusion on this point at the LPCI dinner, however. University provost Lynn Weiner and trustee Charles Gardner were there, but the award went to former ATC executive director Jan Kallish, dumped last spring by the university, and former board member Fred Eychaner, who put more than a million dollars of his own money into the restoration.

Kallish thanked LPCI for filing a brief in support of the board during the litigation. Eychaner said, "It's actually bittersweet to be here." Then the room went dead quiet. "This litigation was senseless and unnecessary," he continued. "Roosevelt has been taking false credit for the renovation." The best that can be hoped for now, he said, is that the university's "impressive" new president will be able to remedy the school's neglect of the rest of the Auditorium building. "The truth is that over the last 42 years, the Auditorium Theatre Council spent more than $20 million on the theater's renovation," with the school resisting much of the time, Eychaner said. The real story "is in the books; the historians are writing it." The room erupted in applause as he and Kallish walked off with their prize: an elaborate miniature trading room, aglow with its own light.


Not so defiant: All it took was a cease-and-desist letter from lawyers for the authors of Fiddler on the Roof to get Defiant Theatre to scratch its scheduled production of parody A Shoggoth on the Roof. They'll open Dracula October 12 instead. (Defiant might have guessed this would happen: similar legal problems arose two years ago when ImprovOlympic staged its parody The Roof Is on Fiddler.)...Hell in a Handbag Productions' Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical was the top draw at the New York International Fringe Festival this year, but after a scheduling blip at the Theatre Building they're calling for a lifeboat. Anyone got a stage for their holiday show, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer?...Paul Abrahamson's Moose Project is reborn this weekend as Chicago Ballet, performing its "inaugural" show at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts....The Chicago Dance Awards, back after a year's hiatus (and formerly known as the Ruth Page Awards), will be presented September 29 at the Cultural Center by the Chicago Dance and Music Alliance. A new cash prize, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Award of $7,500, will go to Breakbone DanceCo....Press release of the week, from Aron Packer Gallery: "The self-reverential nature of Michael Ferris Jr.'s work is apparent..."

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