A serious fire broke out at St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church in the southern Loop of Chicago on the evening of March 18, causing extensive damages exacerbated by the smoke, as well as water damage by the firefighting.
The Chicago Fire Deputy District Chief, Steve Chikerotis, noted that there is no suspicion of arson and that the fire was triggered in the altar. Firefighters fiercely fought the small fire leaving a heap of rubble as well as heavy smoke odor.
Holes had to be made with drills to provide fresh air. The fire was put out in quite a while, according to Chikerotis. Within an hour the fire trucks had left. “I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be saved,’’ Chikerotis said of the interior damage.
A resident of the district, George Lemperis was working when the fire broke out and approached in a hurry when he realized what was happening. “My phone was ringing off the hook and they’re telling me that my church is on fire,’’ Lemperis said.
The church was built in 1910 as Anshe Sholom Synagogue. According to George A. Lane, “it housed the intelligentsia of West Side Orthodox Jewry.” Designed by architect Alexander Levy, the Greek Revival temple contained pews upstairs where women were required to sit apart from their husbands during services. By the 1920’s the synagogue was no longer within walking distance for most of its congregation, because so many Jewish families had moved to the Lawndale neighborhood. Anshe Sholom built a new temple at Polk Street and Independence Boulevard.