Creative Designs to convert historic church in Chicago’s Kenwood into offices and homes

Former St. James Methodist Episcopal Church to be turned into co-working spaces and 29 apartments

Renderings of plans for 4601 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago with an aproved stamp
Renderings of plans for 4601 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago (ZED Architects)

A 98-year-old limestone church that once packed the pews in Chicago’s Kenwood may now be filled with office workers and apartment dwellers.

Creative Designs Builders, based in Chicago, has received permits to convert the former St. James Methodist Episcopal Church into co-working offices and 29 apartments at 4601 South Ellis Avenue in North Kenwood, Urbanize reported.

The adaptive reuse project at Ellis and 46th Street will transform the historic church by turning its soaring sanctuary into co-working spaces and its run-down rectory into homes.

The Gothic-style church, designed by Tallmadge and Watson, was built in 1925 to replace an 1896 church destroyed by fire.

The six-story cathedral, described by the Illinois State Library as a “Gothic structure of massive beauty,” fell into disrepair over the decades.

Such church-to-residential conversions may be on the uptick, in Chicago and elsewhere, as congregations and churches seek changes. Others are killed by neighborhood opposition.

Last March, non-profit developer LUCHA received $2 million in federal funds to convert the 92-year-old Humboldt Park Methodist Church at 2122 North Mozart Street into 22 affordable apartments.

In 2021, ZSD Development took over a stalled conversion of a long-shuttered St. Boniface Catholic Church at 1358 West Chestnut Street in Noble Square.  Plans called for redesigning the century-old church into 18 apartments, and building two buildings with 23 units next door.

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And last May, local opposition forced a developer to shelve plans to demolish the 131-year-old church Epworth United Methodist Church at 5253 North Kenmore Avenue in Edgewater and replace it with condominiums.

As the Kenwood community changed, both ethnically and socioeconomically, the St. James congregation shrank and had a hard time paying for its mounting upkeep and repairs, according to the United Methodist Church. By the 1980s, water leaked through its roof into buckets.

The church closed in 2010, and its congregation merged with a nearby church. Its nearly century-old organ was also moved to St. John Cantius Catholic Church in Chicago, and restored to its former grandeur.

The U-shaped church building was sold in 2016 to Creative Designs Builders for an undisclosed price — property sales by nonprofit owners are often not subject to local transfer taxes and thus sales amounts aren’t documented in public records.

The church conversion, designed by ZED Architects of Chicago, will turn the former sanctuary into co-working offices beneath its six-story belltower, while using mostly existing walls to turn the former rectory into 29 one- and two-bedroom apartments, with newly landscaped grounds.

Creative Designs Builders, led by Ibrahim Shihadeh, filed plans for new zoning and city entitlements in 2020. With approvals in place, it’s not clear when the mixed-use project will break ground.

— Dana Bartholomew

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