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Holy Souls' End.




-by Lynn Becker

[February 11, 2010] - A sacred space's death, documented in a series of remarkable photographs by Susanne Schnell

Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, demolished
The chapel looked a lot older than it was. It was constructed in the 1940's, in the traditional style, to serve the nuns of the Society of Helpers of Holy Souls, which made its home in an adjacent mansion on Lake Shore Drive and Barry.

Meeker House, Chicago, Charles Pratt, architect
The great house, designed by architect Charles Pratt was built in 1913 for Arthur Meeker, general manager of Armour & Company, the meatpacking colossus. It was part of a general exodus of Chicago's wealthy from the once exclusive Prairie Avenue on the near south side.
Wellington Street mansions, Chicago
On the same block to the south of the Meeker house, at 325 West Wellington, Howard van Doren Shaw designed a 1915 mansion for Lester Armour. In 1926, Oscar Mayer built a pair of impressive houses at 333 and 335. And it wasn't just about pork. There was also an impressive Tudor-styled 1925 mansion for banker Arthur H. Apfel. Across the street at 330 West, an elegant French neo-classical palace for piano king Philip T. Starck. They still stand today, in the shadow of the condo towers and four-plus-one's.

The age of affluence was short. By 1945, the 16,000 square-foot Meeker mansion was in the hands of Society of the Holy Souls. According to a Chicago Reader article by Ben Joravsky, it was around this time that the chapel/solarium was built. In 1993, their numbers in decline, the nuns invited AIDSCare to convert the mansion to a residential facility serving people with that disease, the former coach house serving as offices. The chapel both groups shared.

In 2005, the order, down to 10 nuns, sold the 1.6 acre complex for $21,000,000 to LR Development, and AIDSCare was rendered an eviction notice. LR Development sold off the property in pieces, and today the Meeker Mansion is being marketed as a duplex, with a four bedroom unit listed for $1,749,000.

Where the chapel once stood, there is now empty ground. It was demolished over a two-week period in March of 2008, an event documented in these remarkable photos taken by Archeworks' Susanne Schnell, who had an apartment overlooking the site.

Nothing is immortal, no living thing, no constructed thing. No one would argue Holy Souls was great architecture. Its exterior, seen in the bottom corner of the photo below, was abjectly utilitarian.
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, demolished
Still, a house of worship seems to stand outside of time. It jars to see a sanctuary cracked open like an egg, the structural symbols of faith and aspiration dismantled and wrecked. Even to an unbeliever, it's an unsettling sign, a center unable to hold, a whispered incantation intimating chaos.

Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
The matter-of-factness of Susanne Schnell's photographs could, if placed on a demolition company's website, serve as a case study, but their starkness is itself a question, a contemplation. A deconstruction into basic elements: brick, plaster, glass, like an autopsy of a living being down to residue elements: flesh, bone, hair.
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition
Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition

. . . When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang . . .

Holy Souls Chapel, Chicago, during demolition

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© 2010 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.


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