This May Be the Most Divine Chicago Church Conversion Yet

A five-level unit in Lake View’s former Trinity Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church has giant windows, soaring ceilings, and a heavenly price tag.

3101 N. Seminary Avenue   Photo: Ian Spula

Not all residential church conversions are restorative—some gut sanctified spaces and emerge with multi-story “loft” additions with stacked balconies.  The former Trinity Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church at Seminary and Barry in Lake View dodged all of that thanks to good bones and a developer looking to deliver exceptional spaces at high prices.

The building’s largest condo unit by a mile—an estimated 3,800-sqaure-feet—began as developer Alexander Pearsall’s own home in 2003, was bought by Pam Wylder (and her ex-husband) in 2009, and came back on the market this week with an asking price of $1,575,000. “We were living downstate and wanted to have a pied-a-terre,” says Wylder. “We would come up on the weekends for over a year, and I eventually began to furnish it.” Wylder has logged three years in the condo fulltime and is ready to move closer to her father and a daughter on the South Side as well as settle into “something a little cozier” and “less of a showpiece.”

Owing to a bevy of modern finishes, custom built-ins, and five levels of living space integrating new and original architecture, one knows they’re in an old church but it doesn’t feel so religious. The genius of the layout is in its verticality—the main floor is the building’s second floor and introduces the home with the grandeur of enormous lancet windows, exposed brick, and ceilings of at least 22-foot height. The next floor up is smartly opened to the living room below, mimicking a church gallery and permitting the dramatic presence of the bell tower’s encircling arches. The unit claims the entire bell tower, splitting it into a dining room on the main level—which comes fully furnished with an incredibly weighty dining set and epic stage curtains—a sitting room with big neighborhood views, an oculus, and the bell itself at the top floor, and a media room on the ground floor, a level that feels like a finished basement but for the large windows to the sidewalk.

The fourth- and fifth-floor master suite boasts roughly the same ceiling height as the living room and includes the aforementioned bell tower sitting room, a lofted office, wood-beamed walk-in closet, and bathroom with stone whirlpool tub and a steam shower and showing off its buttresses. Every full floor has at least one bathroom, all of them with stonework. And don’t ignore the kitchen, though wedged into a corner behind a column: It has commercial grade appliances, ample counter and cabinet space, and an island.

Though the property has no yard space or land to its name, a 28-foot-long second-floor terrace sits in the tree canopy. The most obvious selling point is the four-car garage parking. Excessive for central Lake View? I’d say so, but it could help hook a hotshot celebrity or a car enthusiast.

Price Points: Listing on March 17 for $1,575,000, the purchase price was $1,537,500 in 2009. This opens up the distinct possibility that pricing will slip below what the seller paid, particularly since the condo’s size and pricing has it in direct competition with quality single-family homes in Lake View and even Lincoln Park. Hope springs eternal: “If we get some interest in the first few weeks, there’s a good chance offers will come in at or around asking price,” says broker Doug Smith of Prudential Rubloff. 

Taxes are a jolt, to say the least: $21,948 for tax year 2012 (it’s been in that ballpark since the property’s 2002 conversion). It’s almost as if this church finally hit the tax rolls and started making up for lost time. Smith agrees taxes are high—it’s a building-wide reality—though not out of step with like-sized single-families in the area. He encourages a buyer to contest the assessed value. The homeowner assessment, at $1,045/month, reflects the unit’s large slice of overall building square footage and reminds that upkeep doesn’t come cheap on old, irregular structures. Add it all up, and you’re pouring a decent working class income into fees and levies.

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