A ride up Martin Luther King Drive

Last weekend I found myself in Hyde Park on a pleasant morning, with nothing to do but ride my bike back home. I took a leisurely ride up MLK (King Drive? Every town has its own street honoring Dr. King, and they all have their own unique way of abbreviating the name), through the core of Bronzeville, where a multitude of historic architecture waits to impress and overwhelm.

MLK Drive
D. Harry Hammer House, 3656 S. King Drive, 1885 – William W. Clay

MLK Drive

MLK Drive

It being a Sunday morning, I stood on the sidewalk for a while and listened to Gospel music swelling from within the church at right, the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church. It’s a 1891 brownstone beauty in a Romanesque style, originally the 41st Street Presbyterian Church.

Metropolitan Community Church

MLK Drive

Graystone row houses

And the hits just keep on coming. House after house and block after block speak to the jaw-dropping wealth that landed here in the 1880s and 1890s.

MLK Drive

42nd and King Drive

Though the best parts of the avenue are residential, there are some impressive institutional buildings as well, several converted to churches. The Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, a Kentucky-based firm, occupied a building sporting a neon sign that is rather at odds with the Beaux Arts facade. I have no clue if this building remains in use at all, but it doesn’t look like it.

MLK Drive

The Sinai Temple at 46th and MLK was begun in 1909 for a Jewish Reform congregation. Today it houses the Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church.

MLK Drive

And there are some delectable slices of Mid Century Modernism, as well. Liberty Baptist Church has been documented by Lee Bay, though he doesn’t share interior photographs. I wasn’t feeling up to venturing inside, so that remains a future mission.

MLK Drive

Nearby, Illinois Service Federal Savings & Loan occupies a 1960s building that presents a wild facade of folded plates to the street. The bank has neighborhood roots dating back to the 1930s.

MLK Drive

The South Park Baptist Church leans toward the Streamline Deco end of the Modernism scale. It went up in 1953, to the designs of architect Homer G. Sailor.
South Park Baptist

Further north, the Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church leans a bit more toward the stock side of Midcentury design:

The avenue kind of explodes into a nothing-scape north of here, thanks to a lot of big redevelopment products that have brought grassy fields and parking lots to the areas just south of downtown.


MCM Style on the south side

Here’s a slick little commercial building, way down south on Western Avenue:


Built to the sidewalk, with apartments above (complete with their own balcony!) and shops below, it’s the kind of MidCentury building that I refer to as the last stand of urbanism. By the 1950s or 1960s, whenever this building went up, the automobile was at the zenith of its ascendancy. Yet numerous builders still designed in the old way, building to the sidewalk, as if this poor stretch of gargantuan, highway-like Western Avenue might some day harbor thriving foot traffic. In some places, like the older streetcar suburbs, this was simply fitting in with what already existed. In the new suburbia, however, it was a totally lost cause, and these buildings stand as novelties today.

But enough about that. Let’s check out the slick bits of 1960s style on this place!



The building goes heavy on the colored glass block, using yellow and blue in addition to its baby blue brick. Geometry is emphasized by blocky massing and that thick overhanging roof.

The building also uses lovely thin Roman bricks, and has a bit of stylized door hardware to boot.

Squared ring


Nearby, another building holds a recycled sign of similar vintage. Jim’s Beverly Bicycle Shop has creatively and fittingly given a second life to the body of an old neon sign.

St. Gall Catholic Church

St. Gall Catholic Church

In 1956, this UFO of a building touched down at the busy intersection of 55th and Kedzie. It hovers there still today, a circular pie-slice of building fronted by a thin-shell concrete pod. Architects Pavlecic & Kovacevic designed a stridently Modern building, utterly free of historical associations in ornament or form.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The baptistery is a building within a building, a circular form rendered in glazed orange brick, inset with gold-finished crosses.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The stained glass is unobtrusively simple, not particularly groundbreaking, but adequately modern.

St. Gall Catholic Church

Quite a few ornate period details remain. Check out the mosaic-tiled baptismal font, the grid of screens behind the altar, and of course that fabulously Fifties glossy blue-green brick.

St. Gall Catholic Church

The Stations of the Cross are done in a more stylized fashion than the stained glass, more befitting this stridently jet age building.

St. Gall Catholic Church

St. Gall is a shouting punctuation amid all the background paragraphs of the neighborhoods east of Midway Airport.

Link: A history of the church, with detailed information on this building, as part of a tour of church organs.