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Crews salvage Windows to History

By Terry Wilson – Chicago, IL

Tribune Staff Writer

Inside the hull of a North Side church that looked as if it had been ground zero for a fairly large bomb, a small crew of workers chiseled stone Saturday to remove and save valuable stained-glass windows.

Working in Buena Memorial Presbyterian Church, 4301 N. Sheridan Rd., the workers exhumed panels of hand-painted leaded glass windows with religious motifs that were made in 1905 by Gianini & Hilgart.

“We are trying to save a bit of history,” said Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for King Richard’s Ltd., an architectural salvage company. “Usually we work with a building that is old and sound. The only thing that is holding this one up is the balcony.”

Salvagers were called to bid on the church’s contents by demolition crews Thursday, one day after age and gravity dropped the roof of the 74-year-old church down through the main sanctuary’s pews and into the basement.

Splintered foot-wide roof timbers and the concrete from the roof lay in a mangled pile at the site.

“It’s kind of devastating, especially if you saw it before and how beautiful it was,” said Brian Johnson, a representative from the Presbytery of Chicago.

Johnson said he had hoped to sell the church’s large pipe organ to a salvager, but it was destroyed in the collapse.

About 30 windows in banks of three that depict scenes of Christ’s life will be removed, said Richard Lair, owner of the salvage firm. About 50 hand-painted geometric stencil windows with Gothic arch tops that were not damaged also will be removed.

“We’ll restore them and clean them up and reframe them,” Lair said. “They’re not the easiest things to sell. It may take a day or a month or two years.”

The windows made by Gianini & Hilgart “have a lot of vibrant colors,” Mason said. “They shift from pale yellow or orange to really bright blue and rich red. They’re very intense windows.”

Lair said he also will remove woodwork from the entry of the church that has hand-carved grapevines and grapes, as well as doors, pulpits and walls of wood with fine leaded glass that was not broken in the crash.

Attendance at the church had dwindled in the last five years, and the church was recently vacated by the Presbyterians. Others groups that rented space in the church had been asked to vacate after Easter.