By Kelly White
In a repurposed former church, the Epiphany Center for the Arts has been a Chicago entertainment destination since opening its doors in 2020. Landmarks Illinois applauded the repurposing, honoring the center with a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Adaptive Reuse.
Real estate developer and center co-founder David Chase and his wife, center co-founder Kimberly Rachal, converted the former Episcopal Church of the Epiphany’s 42,000 square feet and its adjacent property into a $15 million venue to host live music and art exhibits as well as weddings, galas, and other private events.
The couple married at the West Loop church, located at 201 S. Ashland Ave., in 1996.
“We are delighted that the Epiphany Center for the Arts continues to play a significant role that gives back to the community,” Rachal said. “Providing a place to gather together again is something that we are very proud of.”
The center gives back to the community through art, dance, music, spoken word, silent films, culinary arts, and wellness and yoga classes, Rachal said.
It offers three distinct venues—Epiphany Hall, the Sanctuary, and the Chase House. The campus also features eight galleries that serve as a platform for a diverse selection of artists from Chicago.
Epiphany’s exhibitions showcase work by women, the LGBTQIA community, artists of color, and individuals within the disability culture. Epiphany has prioritized inclusive programming that also provides a place where established artists can collaborate with emerging ones.
Episcopal congregants engaged workers to construct the building in 1885. The church served as the location for former Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.’s funeral in 1893 and for a memorial service for Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969. By the 2000s, the church’s membership had dwindled, leading the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago to close it in 2011.
“The church was a place for people to congregate and share what was important to them in their lives,” Chase said. “We were able to adapt the physical property into a similar use. We do not have a religious purpose, but we do have a spiritual presence.”
Creating the new arts center required a total renovation.
The church’s basement had been a 6,000 square-foot dirt floor, original from 1885. “We had to take out tons of dirt and brought the elevation down two and a half feet,” Chase said. “That alone was a remarkable experience, and it was a little fun to play in the dirt for a while.”
As for other renovations, the couple worked together to restore many original elements. Rachal took over the interior design, keeping as much as possible of the more than century old building’s traditional style.
“She really did a great job in preserving the feel of the original building, even though it was completely gutted,” Chase said.
Chase and Rachal take great pride in the terrace. “When we purchased the property, there were trees that have been there forever, including a blue spruce and an olive tree,” Chase said. “We were able to preserve these trees and build a terrace around them to look like they have always been there.”
The Epiphany Center for the Arts opened its doors in October 2020 but had to close due to the pandemic. It reopened in March 2021 and is accessible “to all walks of life to everyone in the 77 communities of Chicago,” Chase said.
Chase and Rachal updated a sign from the original building that read “For the Good of Men” to “For the Good of Art and Entertainment,” making it the center’s official tagline.
The couple was pleased to learn Landmarks Illinois honored Epiphany Center for the Arts with its 2021 Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse.
The center ranks among nine outstanding preservation efforts Landmarks Illinois recognized for creative, inclusive, and sustainable reuse at an in-person and virtual awards ceremony on October 22 at the historic Davis Theatre on the North Side. The event highlighted both the projects and the people who made them possible.
Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois, said she especially loves two things about Epiphany Center of the Arts.
First, she cited “the creative reuse the developers found for this building, especially when Chicago is facing a number of [church] closures,” McDonald said. “They turned it into something that was needed and desired in the local community.”
Second, Chase and Rachal’s personal history means “They are invested not only financially but emotionally, having been married in the same church they have renovated,” McDonald said.
Founded in 1971, Landmarks Illinois is the state’s leading voice for historic preservation. The organization promotes preservation, restoration, and adaptive reuse of buildings and sites of many types in order to leverage the past to create a better future.
Landmarks Illinois annually takes public nominations from anyone in Illinois who knows of a project, similar to Epiphany Center of the Arts, that deserves to be honored. The organization typically receives 50 nominations a year and limits the winners to nine, a process McDonald describes as very difficult.
Criteria include a building’s significance and benefits, its creative reuse, and the potential for the project to serve as a remodel example for others.
“It is certainly a wonderful acknowledgement from a legendary organization,” Chase said. “Everyone involved and everyone who made the decision about us receiving this award are very in tune to what it means to convert historic buildings into common use.”
Chase said revamping the church into the arts center has offered one of the most complex yet interesting and fun real estate projects he has taken on. He said that, as he hangs up his hat and retires from real estate, he plans to focus solely on operations at Epiphany Center for the Arts.
“For me, it’s 40 years of hard work in the industry that have led up to this,” Chase said. “For us to be chosen for a preservation award for adaptive reuse from Landmarks Illinois recognizes that we truly are equity in motion.”
Local community organizations strongly support Chase and Rachal’s venture, including Friends of the Fulton Market.
“This is an extraordinary achievement on the West Side,” said Roger Romanelli, executive director of Friends of Fulton Market. “It’s bringing jobs and people into the community. Ashland Avenue is so underdeveloped for retail, restaurants, and entertainment. We are wishing them all of the success in the world at the Epiphany Center for Arts.”
To attend events at Epiphany Center for the Arts, visitors must be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination before entering. Owners follow the City’s COVID-19 mandates and require masks to be worn indoors; masks are not required on the terrace.
The Driehaus Foundation is named for Richard H. Driehaus, a Chicagoan, fund manager, and businessperson. He established the fund in 1983.
Driehaus said in 2000 that “the measure of one’s personal holdings is of less importance than the impact of our collective aspirations made real….Maximizing the impact of donated dollars can be considerably more challenging than earning those dollars in the first place.”