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Avondale church steeple ends up smashed in dumpsters

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Updated: December 23, 2013 2:08PM

A tiny group of parishioners and preservationists huddled in the chill night air, watching as a crane slowly lowered a section of the Avondale neighborhood church steeple — built the same year as the 1893 World’s Fair — to the ground.

“It came down all in one piece, and we were so hopeful and so happy,” said Dan Pogorzelski, executive director of the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce.

That hope turned to heartbreak early Wednesday morning, as crews then crushed the steeple, turning it into “kindling,” before tossing what remained into large dumpsters, Pogorzelski said.

Several parishioners of Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2645 W. Belmont Ave. — which, on a good day, attracts about 25 people to the pews — expected the steeple would be saved intact, stored and then put back up when the congregation found the funds to do it.

Now, they’re saddled with a $100,000 bill for the demolition — plus interest if they can’t pay it off all at once, parishioners say.

“It was like losing an old friend,” said Ralph Krueger, who is 85 and whose grandfather joined the congregation in 1894.

Age and Sunday’s vicious winds likely loosened the historic ornament. On Monday, city staff found some of the supporting beams holding up the steeple had given way and some of the bolts had been sheared off. For public safety, the steeple had to come down, the city decided. And because the congregation didn’t have the money to do it, a Cook County Circuit Court judge issued an emergency receiver, allowing CR Realty Advisors to bring in contractors to do the work.

As late as Tuesday evening, parishioners and others had met — with some holding out hope the steeple could be saved. But then in the early morning hours Wednesday, a 60-foot section of the steeple came down, and crews began to tear it apart.

“The whole process was rather disappointing, but the Lord is still with us and we’re going on from here,” said the Rev. Martin Doering, the church’s pastor.

Ward Miller, president of the city-based Preservation Chicago, described the steeple’s destruction as “wrenching.”

Miller said he understands the need to protect the public, but he said the decisions that led to the steeple’s demolition were rushed and done without properly consulting the congregation.

“We could perhaps have made repairs to the steeple in the three days it took to demolish it,” Ward said.

Mike Brough, owner of Green Demolition — the company that dismantled the steeple — said that’s nonsense.

“If you were going to try to salvage and rebuild it, you would have to replace every piece of wood,” Brough said. “The whole thing was shot — garbage.”

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