HIGHLAND PARK – The York Boulevard Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1913 to serve a congregation of mostly conservative Midwestern newcomers. More than a century later, the new owners of the now vacant church have a new flock in mind, those who are more interested in dining, drinking and dancing than attending Sunday services. The owners of the Craftsman-Tudor style building, which The Eastsider reported on last year, are seeking city approval to serve beer and wine as part of a restaurant, dance hall, bar, lounge and nightclub with seating for 368 patrons and total occupancy of 599 persons, according to a public hearing notice. Meanwhile, the owners have also applied to have the city declare the 7,383-square-foot building declared a historic landmark.
While the city may consider The Church On York to be a nightclub, owner Graeme Flegenheimer prefers to describe it as a community center. Flegenheimer said the restaurant and bar portions of the venue are needed to help fund operations. He notes that AA classes and workshops for students are already being held in the building. “We are not interested in getting people loaded,” said Flegenheimer, who is collecting support for his city permits through an online petition.
The last church to occupy the building, York Boulevard Church of Christ, was using the building only for prayer meetings and Sunday school before putting the property up for sale in 2012, according to the historic monument application filed with the city. Although the building’s original shingled exterior was covered up with stucco decades ago, the building “retains its integrity” and is “emblematic of how the Arts and Crafts movement influenced ecclesiastical design during the early part of the 20th Century,” according to the application submitted by historian Charlie Fisher.
Last week, the Cultural Heritage Commission, which oversees the city’s historic landmarks, agreed to take the historic application under consideration, said Ken Bernstein, Manager of the Office of Historic Resources. The commissioners will tour the property before taking a final vote, probably in May, Bernstein said.
How are the owners going to retain the church’s historic character while transforming the building into a restaurant-night club? That’s not clear but, according to the historic monument application, the “effort is being made” so that the renovation conforms to historic preservation standards set by the U.S. Secretary of The Interior.
On March 27, a public hearing will be held at City Hall to review the owner’s request for a city permit to serve beer and wine and allow dancing with live entertainment in a building located on a primarily residential block of York Boulevard.