St. Michael in Old Town Roman Catholic Church
1633 N. Cleveland Ave.
August Walbaum, 1869
Saint Michael in Old Town traces its roots to 1852, when Michael Diversey, a German immigrant and successful brewer, donated land for a modest house of worship named for St. Michael the Archangel. The parish grew slowly, beset by struggles among immigrant groups from different parts of what is now Germany--until the Redemptorists took over in 1860. In 1869, the thriving parish dedicated a grand new building, but just two years later, the Great Chicago Fire struck, leaving only the outer walls. St. Michael’s was reconstructed, consecrated and rededicated by 1873--one of the first churches to rise from the fire’s ashes. The present 290-foot spire, graced with an enormous gilded cross and four-faced clock, was completed in 1888. Renovations in 1902 added five altars and 16 stained glass windows from Munich depicting scenes from the life of Jesus and the Blessed Mother. The Great Depression and the gradual change and physical decline of the surrounding neighborhood put pressure on the parish, and plans for large-scale urban renewal might have resulted in its demolition, had church leaders and community members not organized in opposition. The improving fortunes of the neighborhood have stabilized the parish and enabled a substantial investment in needed restoration efforts centered on the church’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2002. Work has continued to restore and maintain the building since.