CHICAGO
03/08/2012 02:50 pm ET

Shepherd's Temple Demolition Plans Prompt Community Resistance, Conservation Efforts (VIDEO)

A 99-year-old West Side house of worship slated for demolition by the city has inspired action among historians, preservationists and area residents who say the building's rich history merits its conservation.

The Shepherd's Temple church was built in 1913 to serve as a synagogue -- Anshe Kenesseth Israel. It began as one of many synagogues the North Lawndale neighborhood once known as "Chicago's Jerusalem," according to Tablet Magazine. Built by the architectural firm Aroner & Somers, the synagogue featured lavish details and seated around 3,500 people. Construction cost approximately $100,000 at the time.

In the 1960s, the building changed hands, and has since hosted predominately African-American Baptist churches, according to Lee Bey, who blogs about architecture for WBEZ. The building currently houses Shepherd's Temple Baptist Church; but between 1962 and 1983, it was home to Friendship Baptist Church, one of few Chicago sites where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech during his lifetime.

The building has fallen into terrible disrepair, and was placed on Preservation Chicago's annual list of the city's seven most endangered buildings in 2011.

The threat became even more imminent when the city won a hard-fought emergency demolition order for the building at 3411 W. Douglas Blvd. in December, according to the Chicago Tribune, despite protests from the building owners and preservationists, calling the structure unsafe.

A group of residents and activists barricaded the building with their bodies Tuesday to stay the demolition plans and voice their concerns, CBS Chicago reports. After city officials explained that producing enough money to execute needed repairs could reopen the discussion, supporters of the preservation efforts hope the demonstration, and a petition that has gathered more than 600 signatures, will help energize their fundraising efforts and offer the building a chance for new life.

Some hope King's presence could be the key to generating support for the temple's rehabilitation.

"When this building was a church, when this was Friendship Baptist Church, this was one of the places where Martin Luther King Jr. was actually able to speak in Chicago," architect Carey Wintergreen said Tuesday, according to video from ABC Chicago. "We don't have a Martin Luther King museum in Chicago. This would be a perfect location for that."

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