The Historical Society of Forest Park has signed a deal to rent office space at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 500 Hannah St., for one year, board President AugieAleksy announced.
“We’re getting our foot in the door,” said Aleksy, referring to the group’s dream to possibly buy the historic church built in 1899, which has been for sale for 18 months. The church is priced at $350,000 – with no takers thus far.
The church was built by some of the area’s first German immigrants, when Forest Park was still called Harlem. St. Peter’s manager, Judy Jilek, has said that the 37 remaining congregation members (down from 400) are excited about the possibility of the society buying the church. Aleksy agrees that it would be “a match made in heaven.”
The dream may have legs, considering Aleksy’s years in the banking industry. Aleksy worked for 10 years in the mortgage division at Talman bank, which was bought by LaSalle and later became Bank of America. He started Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore 22 years ago.
Banking expertise and small business ownership are skills that may be needed since the society has less than $20,000 in the bank. Donations enclosed in village vehicle sticker payment envelopes totaled $3,800.
“We’re supposed to be building memberships and getting programs we can make money on,” Aleksy said. Having their own building would build momentum for the society, he said, and make them eligible for more grants. St. Peter’s is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the only site in Forest Park, except for the Haymarket Monument in Forest Home Cemetery.
“We’re going to have to work on it together,” said Aleksy. “There are some people in the village who are enthusiastic about it happening and will have some good influence. Maybe they’ll help us rustle up some bucks to make it happen.”
The society will pay a token rent amount of $75 per month.
“We’ve made great strides in a relatively short period of time,” said Aleksy, pointing to the hiring of Diane Hansen as director and the assistance of archiving students from Dominican University. “A deliberate decision to get a director is a commitment. A building shows commitment. Our mission is to have displays and programming. Diane is helping to do that.”
The church currently hires a pastor and organist to officiate at one service per month. They also rent space to support groups and a craft group. They have rented spaces to other church organizations as well over the years. Ideally, Aleksy said, those tenants would remain, as well as others, and the congregation would still be welcome to rent the church.
“If you’ve got the right idea and right timing, something will happen,” he said.