Tower cracking, so Grace Lutheran readies expensive long-term fix

More than half-way to million dollar capital goal

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By Deb Kadin

There was never any question that Grace Lutheran Church would do all it could to save its landmark tower.

Cracks and wear and tear from the weather as well as its sinking from poor soil conditions have left the 80-plus-year-old tower in need of a major facelift.

Someone suggested that the limestone structure -- where congregants gather before services and where many life cycle events commence -- should be razed. But as it turned out it would be more expensive to take it down than repair.

"It wouldn't have been Grace Church anymore," said Jeff Wood, the congregation's president.

And now the storied tower at Division Street and Bonnie Brae Place, near Concordia University, is well on its way to the more than $1 million needed to retain its integrity.

Church leaders announced Sunday that since the Save the Tower Campaign kicked off earlier this fall, $669,000 has been pledged to do the necessary work.

In addition to repairing the tower, money will go to support education and service projects in Chicago and elsewhere.

"This is a great response for the tower project and support for the ongoing ministry for the church," Wood said.

It is hoped that the amount that congregants have promised so far will inspire to others to give. "(Without the tower) the culture of the church would have changed. With that much assured, it begins to feel that (reaching the goal) is much more doable," said Gwen Gotsch, the church's communications coordinator.

Doable also because it's providence that Grace added a tower in the first place. The groundbreaking on the church itself took place a matter of days before the stock market crash of 1929.

The pastor at the time, Otto A. Geiseman, was known to say that a lot of congregants went without a lot to keep making the church's mortgage, Gotsch said.

Then there was discussion about whether to add a tower, which would have cost an additional $20,000. On April 6, 1930, as the economy was crashing, a church committee took an extra vote and decided to go ahead and get the tower built.

On Feb. 8, 1931, the building, designed in English Gothic style by Tallmadge and Watson, protégés of noted architect Daniel Burnham, was dedicated. The tower also was completed.

Over the years moisture got in to the structure and the freezing-thawing process made the cracks worse. Some repairs were made in the 1980s, but they had not held up. Fixing the cracks in the limestone was done 18 months ago, but it didn't last long. But people who did the work told the church that it needed to be fixed more completely and done in two years.

Micro pilings will be installed to support and stabilize the tower's foundation. The structure itself already has sunk 3 inches, Gotsch said.

The façade will be overhauled. Cracked stones and damaged mortar will be replaced throughout the structure and on the façade of the Bonnie Brae entrance.

All of this will save the structural integrity of the entire tower, Gotsch said.

The repairs will start in the spring and be completed in the fall. By that time church leaders hope to gather pledges. Congregants can pay off their commitments over a two-year period, Wood said.

"This will give everybody an opportunity to participate at a level that's best for them," he said.

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