St. Basil’s Church Garfield Blvd
St. Basil's Church
1850 W. Garfield Blvd
Church razed 1998
St Basil’s Church was established in 1904 on the near west side of Chicago from portions of two other Roman Catholic churches on the south side. Rev. Thomas E. Cox was appointed the first pastor. The founding families were predominantly of Irish and German descent, many of whom worked in the Union stockyards. The first mass was celebrated in an abandoned blacksmith shop at 5311 S. Ashland. A fire was set that same day which caused $100 in damages.
In 1905, a combination church and school was built at a cost of $45,000. The parish grew rapidly and a new three story building was constructed in 1913 at a cost of $60,000 to house a second combination school church building.
Father Cox died in 1916, and Rev John T Bennett was named the new pastor. He purchased a 15 room house at 1747 W. Garfield for $10,000 to house a permanent rectory. It wasn’t until 1925 that ground was broken for a new church at the corner of Garfield Blvd and Honore. The church was designed by architects Joe McCarthy and William J. Williams, and was modeled after the Byzantine church St. Sophia in Istanbul. The church was dedicated in September of 1926.
In 1935 Rev. Bennett hired John Mallin to decorate the entire church. The Mallin contract for the decorations, dated April 29, 1935, included detailed descriptions of the decorations to be done in the entire church, in a “truly Byzantine Style”. A sample was to be put up before proceeding with the decorations, which were to have the final approval of the architect (McCarthy). The total cost would be $14,000 for labor and material. Since the church only had available $9,000 in cash to pay for the decorations, the remaining $5,000 were to be paid by the transfer of church real estate at 1747 W. Garfield Blvd. This was the 15 room house Rev. Bennett had purchased for the rectory. The contract also stipulated that the work was to start on May 6, 1935, and would be completed in 90 working days, with the exception of minor touches, and would include all union workers. In a letter to parishioners from Rev Bennett during the decorations, he mentioned a total price of $17,000, which may have included the supervision of Mr. McCarthy.
In a letter to parishioners, Rev. Bennett describes the red, blue and gold byzantine colors which predominate. “The cobalt blues and vermillion reds are made from expensive minerals and are very durable, while the gold color is real beaten gold leaf over 23 carats fine. Lest it might be affected by its plaster base this gold leaf is laid on over silver leaf thus ensuring for all time its brilliant beauty. The apse alone contains $700 worth of real gold leaf while the soffits and symbols, pendentives, arcades and cornices flash and glow their golden jewels.” A St Basil brochure produced by Mallin also included very detailed descriptions of the decorations.
The neighborhood of St. Basil’s went through several transformations in the 1960s and 1970s as black families moved to the east side end of St. Basil parish. Unscrupulous realtors contributed to the “white flight” of the neighborhood, selling to black families at inflated prices and scaring whites into selling their homes at a loss. Msgr. Martin Howard was pastor of the church at this time, and canvassed the neighborhood with members of the Holy Name Society to hand out anti-solicitation petitions. They also contacted area realtors to inform them of the community’s anti-solicitation views. This eased tensions, but by 1979, the diamond jubilee of the parish, the neighborhood was predominantly black, and about 20% Mexican and Puerto Rican. The pastor of the church in 1979, Rev. Paul F. Rosemeyer, formed social services programs to help families in the community, including the provision of food and clothing. The declining Catholic population in the neighborhood resulted in St. Basil closing in 1990. The church parish merged with Visitation church and St. Basil’s was torn down in 1998.
In a 1998 Chicago Sun Times article about the razing of the church, the Rev. George Lane, author of the book Chicago Churches and Synagogues, stated that “St. Basil’s represented the early culmination of South Side Irish wealth. There was a progression of churches going West on Garfield Boulevard that were built by Irish immigrants as they climbed up the economic ladder. The easternmost was the demolished St. Anne’s, then Visitation. St Basil was the last one. It has lovely pews and lovely stained glass windows.” Mallin also decorated Visitation church.
A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago Volume 1. Msgr. Harry C. Koenig, S.T.D., editor. The Archdiocese of Chicago, Chicago, 1980.
Bey, Lee. “Beautiful old St. Basil church razed.” Chicago Sun Times. p. 20, October 23, 1998