Friday, January 06, 2006

Fire sweeps through landmark Chicago church

By Dan Blake, Tribune staff reporter
Published January 6, 2006, 5:15 PM CST

Firefighters this afternoon battled an extra-alarm fire that tore through a South Side church that achieved landmark status in the 1980s.

The cause of the blaze at the Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana Ave., appeared accidental, possibly caused by work being done on the roof, Fire Media Affairs spokesman Larry Langford said.

No injuries had been reported by late this afternoon.

The fire was reported around 3:07 p.m. and raised to a 4-11 alarm just before 3:30 p.m., according to Langford. A 4-11 alarm sends 16 engines, 10 trucks, the district chief, deputy commissioner, four battalion chiefs and about 145 firefighters to the scene.

"The fire spread very quickly and the roof has already been consumed," Langford said by telephone from the scene. "We're keeping everyone away from the building, (the fire) is way out of control."

Brick chimneys at the rear of church fell about 3:50 p.m., crashing onto power lines and shaking the ground as they collapsed. About two dozen people were in an alley east of Indiana Avenue and ran as the big columns started to fall. Neighbors said they saw construction workers on the roof of the church before the fire. They had been working there since about Christmas, they said.

The flames were so intense, cars parked on 33rd Street caught on fire, CLTV reported.

Langford said no rescues were made and the workers had evacuated the building prior to firefighters' arrival. Firefighters were continuing to battle the blaze as of 3:40 p.m., Langford said.

The building, a centerpiece of the historic African American community of Bronzeville, was designed by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan and built as a synagogue in 1890-91. Pilgrim Baptist moved into the structure in 1922.

The church is credited as the birthplace of gospel music in the 1930s, thanks to Thomas A. Dorsey, gospel songwriter and teacher.

Among the renowned artists who sang here were Mahalia Jackson, Sallie Martin, James Cleveland, and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, according to a Web site of the Landmarks Division, Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

In 1981, the building was designated a Chicago landmark.

Tribune staff reporter Andrew Wang contributed.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

*Receive periodic updates on new One Great City postings: / Subject: OGC Updates

No comments: