It was in the summer of 1987 that, with its membership drooping, the congregation of the Christian Scientist church at Oak Park Avenue and Ontario decided it was time to downsize. The congregation, without controversy, purchased a smaller church on Harlem and Augusta in River Forest. It’s still there 33 years later.
But the church’s plan to accept an offer for its handsome 1916 Greek Revival space from a Black church based in Austin was nothing but controversial. The Unity Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church had grown to 1,500 members and was far too big for its storefront church at 211 N. Cicero Ave.
The congregation made an offer of $500,000 with $60,000 down. The deal was on its way to closing when an Oak Park trustee raised a ruckus with pretty plain talk that so many Black people in the heart of Oak Park would scare off shoppers a block away in what was then called the Avenue Lake Plaza (the ALPs!).
This overt racism was stunning in a town that, since the late 1960s, proclaimed its commitment to racial integration and diversity. The village board stalled the purchase. Its partners at the Oak Park Development Corporation argued it should be allowed to buy the building even though the only building it had ever directly purchased was the decrepit Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio. When the heat got too great on village hall, there was relief when Chatka Ruggiero, a local who had done well investing in Oak Park apartment buildings, offered $525,000 cash to buy the building for use as a community arts center.
And now Ms. Ruggiero has sold the building, ironically, to a church.
Oak Park’s march toward racial equity has sometimes been a march straight into a wall. Worth remembering.
Investing in our newsroom: We’re grateful that, in two weeks, our readers have already matched the $11,500 challenge provided by NewsMatch, a national supporter of independent nonprofit journalism. Growing Community Media is one of 350 newsrooms nationwide invited to be part of NewsMatch this year.
With that match made, we’re also grateful that the seven board members of this still new non-profit version of Wednesday Journal (and Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark) have come up with a $10,000 match of their own.
That is our next challenge as NewsMatch continues on toward its Dec. 31 deadline.
These are critical days for us as we work to invent a sustainable model for neighborhood news for the years to come. You can donate to us here.
How about matching money we’re sending back?: Converting after 40 years as a for-profit company into a non-profit involves a lot of moving parts. It helps when readers are watching those moving parts, too.
As part of our remaking, Growing Community Media adopted the ethics policies on donations of the Institute for Non-Profit News. You’ll find those policies here. In that simple document, we state that we won’t accept donations from political parties, political entities, elected officials or candidates for office.
All well-meaning. Except that our donor software does not know who is on the library board in Riverside, the elementary school board in Forest Park or the park board in Oak Park. And our skeleton staff, starting with me, have not been paying close enough attention to each online donation.
A reader brought this failing to our attention and we’re working on it. Donations will be refunded shortly from the dozen or so electeds we’ve identified.
Thanks for your support — unless you’re elected or want to be elected.