Friday, February 10, 2017

After dinner at Fabulous Freddies...

...we set off for the second half of our Hike through Bridgeport, this time in the capable hands of our new tour guide, Jake.

Our first stop was directly west, the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple (above), at 1035 W. 31st St.

Originally Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, this triangular-shaped structure was designed by John Wellborn Root and finished by his famous partner Daniel Burhnam (ever heard of him?) in 1891.

The building was converted to a Buddhist temple and school in 1992 and is devoted to the teaching of Taoism, Sutrayana and Tantric philosophies. The facade and interior of the prayer chambers both display Vajrayana Buddhist embellishments and statues.

Practically next door is the Monastery of the Holy Cross, which was formerly Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, at 3111 S. Aberdeen St.

Founded in 1883 by -- again -- the Germans, Immaculate Conception closed in 1989 only to reopen two years later as a monastery. In the interim the church had been used as a warehouse and suffered a fair amount of damage. Not only have the monks restored it to its former glory, but they specialize in music, particularly Gregorian chant, and even house an "award winning" bed & breakfast on the grounds. (Who knew?)

I've actually had the pleasure of attended a couple of these performances and can attest both to their beauty and the quiet dignity of the interior of this charming little Gothic church.

We then skipped another stop on my original route (the best-laid plans...), Park Community Church, at 911 W. 32nd Place. (Remember our little geography lesson about "Place"?) Its website describes Park Community as a "contemporary Christian church," and I thought it would be useful as an example of the growing gentrification of Bridgeport. Long an enclave for the Daleys, as well as cops, firemen and other city workers, this South Side neighborhood is resembling more and more the many other hipster outposts in the city, complete with its share of coffee houses populated by twenty-somethings pecking away at laptops while sporting tattoos, pierced flesh and hair of a color not found in nature.

But, anyway, it was getting later and later (and colder and colder) so we made a beeline to the crown jewel of the evening, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish, at 1039 W. 32nd St. (I wish my pictures did it justice.)

Completed in 1889 in the so-called Polish Cathedral style (a combination of Romanesque and Byzantine), and with its 137-feet-high (tarnished copper?) central dome lit by a ring of lantern windows, St. Mary's is really quite spectacular. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Polish, for some reason, have built the most impressive churches in Chicago.

It was time to head back now, but we still had two more churches to pass on our way to the Orange Line station on Archer (where some of us would catch the Halsted bus back to 1212).

The first was still another German church (aye yai yai!), Holy Cross Lutheran, at 3116 S. Racine Ave. This Missouri Synod congregation's building was consecrated in 1887 and is, like a lot of American churches I would suspect, a mixture of styles. Its overall design and spire look Gothic to me, while its rounded arches are more Romanesque.

Finally, there was St. Barbara's at 2859 S. Throop St. ("We'll cut through Throop," John remarked.) Founded in 1909 to relieve overcrowding at St. Mary of Perpetual Help, it purports to be another "prime example of the Polish Cathedral style in both its opulence and grand scale." Maybe it was the light (or lack thereof), but I just wasn't overly impressed. Apparently, however, it is one of the few octagonal houses of worship in the archdiocese, with 25 stunning stained glass windows depicting the Gospel and the lives of the saints. Maybe I'll have to give it another chance in the daytime.

Now before I conclude, I know what you're thinking: "Hey! What about the other great ethnic groups in Bridgeport? How about the Bohemians, the Lithuanians and the Italians? What about, for heaven's sake, the Irish?"

Alas, much has been lost to history.

But this much we know (or, at least, I think I know).

Bohemian (or Czech) Catholics organized St. John Nepomucene Parish in 1871 but it was consolidated into All Saints-Saint Anthony in 1968.

Lithuanians opened St. George Church in 1892 and it was, for a time, the largest Lithuanian church in the Midwest. St. George closed around 1990, however, and its structure fell to the wrecking ball in 1992.

As for the Italians, well, the only evidence I have that they ever had a presence in Bridgeport is a new-ish building at 31st and Shields called the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club.

Last, but not least, are the Irish of Bridgeport, perhaps the group most closely identified with this historic South Side neighborhood. It's also my tribe, but as far as I know, none of my family has ever lived there. (We were originally West Side Irish, on both sides.) When I go down to Bridgeport, though, I could imagine my ancestors arriving there from Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century, penniless and illiterate, and helping to dig the canals while living in shanties down by the river (hence the term, "Shanty Irish"). All I know is that one of my great-grandfathers migrated to Chicago from Milwaukee (where he was, according to family lore, bilingual in German), one came from upstate New York and one, I think, was born in Cincinnati. (I also had a great-grandfather with a Scottish last name who was probably born a Protestant -- gasp! -- before converting to Catholicism. Ah, the melting pot!) The rest of my Irish antecedents have been lost to the mists of time. But who knows? Maybe some of them did begin their American journey in Bridgeport.

If so, they would have probably been members of St. Bridget's, the first of four Irish Catholic parishes in Bridgeport, founded in 1850 on Archer Avenue. The three others would be Nativity of Our Lord (1868), All Saints (1875) and St. David (1905). Of these four, only Nativity of Our Lord -- the Daleys' parish -- is still in existence, at 37th and Union. The parish was initially housed in an old livery stable, thus the name Nativity. (Why didn't we trek past that? It was too far south for Wednesday evening's expedition, and besides, we've been there, done that.)

St. Bridget's was razed in 1992 and its congregation merged with Immaculate Conception, which we have seen has morphed into the Holy Cross Monastery. All Saints merged with Saint Anthony, and St. David's, at 32nd and Emerald, closed in 1990 and was demolished shortly after.

Next week I'm thinking of taking the guys to Koreatown. (Admit it: you didn't even know Chicago had a Koreatown.)

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