- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PLAINFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The dilapidated St. Mary’s Catholic church on Lockport Street is a relic of Plainfield history.

Built in 1836, originally as a Universalist church, the building more recently was home to Baci’s restaurant. When the restaurant closed, the building sat empty for two years before the village acquired the church, not wanting to lose the landmark in downtown Plainfield.

“It’s important for the village of Plainfield to save that structure,” said Mayor Michael Collins, who had his first wedding in the church. “It’s historic.”

When old churches are abandoned, municipalities often have to balance the financial impact of the empty buildings with historic value.

Sometimes churches are converted for commercial uses at high costs, and sometimes they’re razed to save money and free up the land.

“It’s not an easy decision,” Village Planner Michael Garrigan said.

The Plainfield First Baptist Church on the southwest corner of Route 59 and Lockport Street in Plainfield was 178 years old when it was razed in 2004 to make the land available for other uses - although that location is still vacant after the contract with a bank that was planning to move in fell through.

In December, the 120-year-old Church of the Living God on 353 E. Jackson St. in Joliet was torn down by the city after it was deemed unfit to enter, even for the contractor.

Today the old St. Mary’s Carmelite church in downtown Joliet, built in 1882, faces an uncertain future with some calling for its preservation and some calling for its demolition.

St. Mary’s in Plainfield was acquired by the village and minimally restored. It has attracted interest from potential business developers.

The building does not look like Baci’s anymore. The interior double-deck structure that housed the seating of the restaurant was torn down by the village, revealing the main sanctuary area that is closer to how it looked before the church closed in the 1970s.

“The interior that has been stripped of the restaurant and furnishings is essentially what it was when the church was there,” said Trustee Paul Fay, who was baptized there. “The high altar was very ornate, as was the style then.”

The village board hopes a restaurant or another commercial user takes the space. Religious organizations have expressed interest but were turned away because the village wants tax revenue from the property.

Baci’s opened in 1990 and thrived. But when it closed in 2010, it wasn’t maintained enough for potential buyers to purchase and renovate the historic building. So the village bought the building for $125,000 in 2012, and started a $200,000 restoration process in hopes of the building coming back on the tax roll.

“That’s what direction the village gave us,” Garrigan said. “We started the restoration process and like the openness of the main area.”

Story Continues →