The Second Church of Christ, Scientist, across from Willard Elementary School, is under consideration for Landmark status (Round Table photo)

The City’s Preservation Commission has recommended that the Second Church of Christ, Scientist building and lot at 2715 Hurd Ave. be designated as a local landmark, with the role of prominent architect and lifelong Evanstonian Lawrence Perkins a major consideration in the nomination. 

Board members voted 7-0 at their July 13 meeting in favor of landmark status, sending the issue to the Evanston City Council. 

Currently, more than 800 properties are designated local landmarks in Evanston. Landmark status would affect the owner’s future plans for demolition or repairs on the building.

Earlier this year, the owner of a property adjacent to the 2715 Hurd property filed an application requesting landmark status.

That request came after a group looking to purchase the property notified the City it would like to demolish the structure and construct a two-story 21,134 square foot daycare center at the site. 

Preservationists Weigh In

During the Preservation Commission hearings, a number of preservationists stepped forward supporting the nomination, highlighting Mr. Perkins’s role in the project.

“Lawrence Perkins’s work and the designs of Perkins & Will are significant in the history of Evanston and in U.S. history,” wrote Diane Williams, a former member and Chair of the Commission. “Lawrence Perkins designed homes in the 2900 and 3000 blocks of Harrison Street. Phillip Will lived at 2949 Harrison in a home he designed – all are located about three blocks from 2715 Hurd,” she said. “Nationally, the Perkins & Will collaboration with Eero and Eliel Saarinen to design and construct Winnetka’s Crow Island School was pivotal, altering the nature of institutional, particularly school, designs.”        

Landmarks Illinois, a leading State voice on preservation issues, issued a letter of support for the designation. 

“We came to learn of the threat to the church building earlier this year and were very disappointed to learn that the potential purchaser was not willing to reuse the existing building,” wrote Lisa DiChiera, the group’s Director of Advocacy. “Its clean, modern expression of Classical Revival design makes it an excellent candidate for continued religious use for any denomination or to be reused for a community-oriented gathering space, educational and classroom space, performing arts space and multiple other reuses dependent on zoning. We also know of many successful examples of residential conversion of houses of worship.” 

In a letter to the Commission and in comments at the July 13 hearing, Bernard Citron, the legal counsel to the church in the case, stated objections to the designation.

Mr. Citron noted that the request for local landmark designation was “filed by a single adjacent property owner who in the past has taken issue with the redevelopment applications filed by private buyers in contract to purchase the church from the congregation.” 

Perkins’s Participation Uncertain

Mr. Citron said, meanwhile, that the Commission’s designation is based “almost wholly on unsubstantiated allegations that the Church was designed by Lawrence Perkins.

“He (or the firms in which he worked over the course of his career) did design a number of landmark structures in Evanston, many of which are already designated as local landmarks,” Mr. Citron wrote, “but there is insufficient evidence to prove that he, or his firm, designed the Church, as is suggested in the nomination, draft report and commission discussion.”

At the July 13 hearing, he pointed to an interview Mr. Perkins gave late in his life, looking back at the projects in which he had been involved.

“It’s a very fascinating interview, it’s a long read, [the] interview was hours long,” he noted. “But if it was the only church in his career, you would think that [it] would have been part of that.”

After a hearing on the matter on June 8, City staff reported receiving a scanned document prepared by Mr. Perkins’s wife in the late 1950s that lists all projects designed in Evanston either by Lawrence Perkins or by Phillip Will. This list includes the property at 2715 Hurd Ave., staff reported.

In his comments, Mr. Citron maintained the building did not hold up against another criterion the Commission was relying on – “its exemplification of an architectural type, style or designed distinguished by innovation, rarity, uniqueness or overall quality of design.”

He noted that some of the church’s concerns in the case go beyond the preservation perspective and will have to be considered by the City Council.

Due in part to declining numbers, he said the church has lacked the funds to continue the necessary maintenance of the building.

“The congregation has been attempting to sell the Church for over four years,” he wrote. “Just keeping the building in its current condition has cost over $32,000 per year. These costs are only rising.”

“There are significant deferred maintenance items, such as the non-functioning air conditioner estimated to require replacement at a cost exceeding $200,000, and deteriorated windows that are rotting and require replacement that the congregation cannot even approach to address at this time,” he said.

“Requiring the Church to continue to address the ever growing maintenance under the additional financial and bureaucratic burden of preservation review (window replacement will be made economically impossible if subject to the Landmark review process) and the accompanying debate is an impossibility (despite the congregation’s continued efforts to remain good stewards of the building).” 

No date has been announced yet for the Council’s discussion of the issue. 

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.