Anarchists and Zealots




Barat Interior 1 003

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

We are sort of getting used to the torching of cars in the banlieu de Paris, those partly impoverished suburbs that have become the barricades of the 21st century now that the center of the city has been fully gentrified. But we are not yet used to such property destruction in the suburbs of Chicago, especially tony North Shore Lake Forest. But take a gander at the picture here – this is the interior of the Barat College Chapel in Lake Forest. Can you distinguish between this and the anarchy of Paris’ outer rings?

The interior of Barat College Chapel was a landmark, according to most preservationists and according to the Lake Forest preservation commission, but the City Council overturned their denial of a demolition permit and so the issue is now in court. While it sits awaiting judgement, the owner, Charles Shaw, apparently, allegedly and purportedly ordered this destruction.

Of course I have seen this before. In 1987 in Boston Jesuits took to their own church interior with chainsaws and sledgehammers to prevent a landmark designation. A couple of years later the same thing happened to St. Martin de Porres in Chicago, and in the late 90’s the same thing happened to St. Vibiana’s in downtown Los Angeles. These were all Catholic churches but there are any number of religious sects whose zealots happily incite mayhem in the name of defending their faith.

And zealotry would seem to be the appropriate word given its emtymology – better to destroy oneself than submit to the enemy, their actions seem to say. But Charlie Shaw is no zealot, no ideologue, simply a developer with little patience for preservation. More than 20 years ago he decided not to pursue tax credits for a major downtown rehab EVEN THOUGH HE QUALIFIED for them. Apparently he mistook the opening negotiation from the SHPO as definitive. But hey, that is old school development – no dealings above the neck here – it is won or lost below the waist. Behind the missing stations of the cross, medallions and altars and wainscot and icons you can hear those steel globes clanking….

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One Response to “Anarchists and Zealots”

  1. carol Says:

    How sad. I worked at Barat in the mid-1990s, and although not Catholic found this space to be an oasis for quiet contemplation in a sea of commercial craziness. What a loss.

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